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In a precedent-setting ruling yesterday the Haifa District Court yesterday sentenced two Haifa men to jail for trafficking in humans for the purpose of harvesting their organs.

John Allan (formerly Mohammad Gheit), 59, was sentenced to four years in jail with a three-year suspended sentence. Allan was also ordered to pay each of his six victims NIS 15,000. Hassan Zakhalka, 32, was sentenced to 20 months in prison and 12 months suspended sentence for aiding and abetting human trafficking for the harvest of organs.

This is the first time an Israeli court has issued a conviction for this offense, based on a law passed at the end of last year.

The pair confessed to the charges against them in a plea bargain with the prosecution.

Allan and Zakhalka admitted that at the end of 2006, they persuaded Arabs from the Galilee and central Israel who were developmentally challenged or mentally ill to agree to have a kidney removed for payment. They located their victims by placing ads in the newspaper offering money for organ donation. According to the indictment, the pair gave false information to the donors, and also pressured and threatened them to give up their kidney. After the surgery, Allan and Zakhalka did not pay the donors as promised.

One of the victims was an illiterate 32-year-old single mother from an Arab village in central Israel. The pair told her she would undergo a simple operation, and she would be back on her feet in two days. At one point, the woman changed her mind, and in response Allan and Zakhalka threatened to report her to the police, telling her it was a crime to agree to donate a kidney. Like the other victims, the woman was flown to Ukraine where she underwent the surgery. When she returned home, the victims refused to pay her the $7,000 they had promised her.

Allan and Zakhalka were part of a criminal ring that included an Israeli surgeon, Dr. Michael Zis, who also worked at Assaf Harofeh Medical Center. According to the indictment, Zis sold the kidneys he harvested for between $125,000 and $135,000, of which Allan received $10,000 dollars. The State Prosecutor's Office is preparing an extradition order against Zis, who is being held in prison in Ukraine.

The conviction of Allan and Zakhalka was made possible by an amendment to the criminal code that was passed in October 2006, which added a number of clauses prohibiting trafficking in humans for the purpose of harvesting organs. Judges Josef Elron, Ron Sokol and Menahem Raniel decided to accept the plea bargain because they said clear legal interpretation had not yet been formulated with regard to the crime of human trafficking for the purpose of harvesting organs, Lacking such clear interpretation of the clause, they said, "the parties might be dragged into presenting much complex evidence."