Border control officers at Israel's Ben-Gurion Airport were instrumental in exposing the organ trafficking ring operating between Israel and Costa Rica last week, Costa Rican officials said over the weekend.
Costa Rica asked Israel on Friday for its cooperation in investigating an international organ trafficking ring that worked with Israeli doctors and specialized in selling kidneys to patients in Israel and Eastern Europe. Costa Rica did not name any of the Israeli doctors alleged to be involved in the ring.
Official sources in San Jose, Costa Rica's capital, said on Friday that a couple from Costa Rica had arrived in Ben-Gurion Airport in March. When asked by a passport-control officer the reason for their visiting Israel, the woman said she had come to donate one of her kidneys to an Israeli patient. The couple was forbidden entry and after a short time sent back on a plane to Costa Rica.
Israel's border control notified Interpol, which passed the couple's details to the Costa Rica police, which opened an immediate investigation and cracked down on the organ-smuggling ring before its local members knew they had been compromised.
The couple were interrogated on their return to Costa Rica and told the police about the payments they had been promised. The information they disclosed led to Dr. Francisco Mora Palma, head of nephrology at Calderon Guardia, San Jose's largest hospital.
After an undercover investigation of several weeks, the doctor was arrested last week along with one of his collaborators in the case. Last Thursday, both suspects' remands were extended by six months.
The two are suspected of coordinating medical suitability tests conducted on kidney "donors" with doctors from Israel, arranged for their flights and paid them $16 to $20 thousand for each kidney.
The private hospital Clinica Biblica in San Jose said on Friday that about two years ago Dr. Mora Palma started performing kidney transplants in the hospital's operation rooms for patients who were flown to Costa Rica, apparently mostly from Israel.
"We did not suspect these organ donations had been approved on the basis of donors' false statements and forged agreements," a statement issued by the hospital says. The hospital, it says, stopped Mora Palma from performing private operation in its facilities as soon as they heard of the investigation.
The law in Costa Rica forbids paying a person for his organs. Police in Costa Rica are now investigating whether the doctor's operating team was aware of their involvement in the illegal organ trade.
In recent years Costa Rica has served as a destination for Israeli patients needing kidney transplants. The price for a kidney transplant on the black market is estimated at some NIS 700,000 per kidney.
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