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EU indictment details Kosovo organ-trafficking ring

Alleges false promises made about payment

By Nebi Qena
Associated Press / November 13, 2010

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PRISTINA, Kosovo — At least seven people, including a former senior health ministry official, are suspected of involvement in an international network that falsely promised poor people payment for their kidneys and then sold the organs for as much as $137,000, according to a European Union indictment obtained by the Associated Press.

The indictment is the starkest revelation of the extent of organized crime in the country since Kosovo declared independence in 2008.

The organized criminal group trafficked people into Kosovo for the purpose of removing human organs for transplant, EU prosecutor Jonathan Ratel said in the indictment. Some 20 foreign nationals “were recruited with false promises of payments’’ in 2008, he wrote.

Victims were promised up to $20,000, while recipients were required to pay from $110,000 to $137,000.

According to the indictment obtained Thursday, the victims came from Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkey and lived in “extreme poverty or acute financial distress.’’

The EU prosecution has made requests to secure evidence from authorities in Canada, Germany, Kazakhstan, and Turkey, including access to e-mails of two suspects on servers in the United States.

Five Kosovo nationals, including Ilir Rrecaj, a former senior health ministry official, have been charged with five counts ranging from trafficking in persons to unlawful exercise of medical activity and abuse of power. None of the suspects is in custody.

Two others — Turkish doctor Yusuf Sonmez and Israeli citizen Moshe Harel — are listed as wanted by Interpol. Sonmez is the subject of several criminal proceedings in other countries, including Turkey, for human trafficking and removal of organs, according to the indictment.

“Both Sonmez and Harel are fugitives from justice,’’ the indictment said.

The prosecution alleges that one of the five, Kosovo surgeon Lutfi Dervishi, was the ringleader of the criminal group. It said Dervishi attended a medical conference in Istanbul in 2006 and asked for someone who could perform organ transplants. He was contacted by Sonmez six months later.

Dervishi and Sonmez then carried out the operations in the private medical clinic Medicus, managed by Dervishi’s son, Arban Dervishi, who was also indicted. Harel was involved in “identifying, recruiting, and transporting victims’’ and “ensuring the delivery of cash payments by electronic bank transfer’’ prior to surgery, the indictment said. Two other doctors, Sokol Hajdini and Driton Jilta, were also indicted.

Another two doctors, Israeli national Zaki Shapira and Turkish national Kenan Demirkol, are identified in the 46-page document as “unindicted co-conspirators.’’

Kosovo law forbids the removal and transplant of organs.

In 2008, investigators closed the private health clinic where the doctors had worked as part of the initial investigation.

Kosovo police launched a raid triggered by suspicions that a Turkish man had sold his kidney to an Israeli recipient after he appeared fatigued at the Pristina airport trying to board a flight to Turkey.

The man, identified in the indictment as Yilman Altun, told Kosovo police at the airport he came to the Balkan country to donate his kidney on invitation from the private clinic.

When police searched the clinic in November 2008, they found an Israeli citizen in postoperative care, according to the indictment. Police seized medical records and supplies.

Rrecaj was fired from his governmental post after the raids, and the suspects were arrested Nov. 4, 2008. They denied all accusations and were released after 30 days in detention.

Soon after the raid, the Belgrade-based daily newspaper Blic alleged that Dervishi was linked to allegations that members of the Kosovo Liberation Army kidnapped Serb civilians and killed them for their organs, which they later sold.

The allegations of the trade stemmed from a book by former UN war crimes tribunal prosecutor Carla Del Ponte, who claimed that organ harvesting took place in Albania’s remote north. Subsequent investigations did not substantiate the claims.

The indictment has been filed in a local court, according to EU officials who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the case. The officials said the prosecution can still add the names of other suspects to the indictment and details of their alleged crimes. A preliminary hearing is expected to be held by the end of the month, officials said.

The EU has 2,000 justice workers in Kosovo, including police, judges, and prosecutors.

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