Five Israelis Charged With Organ Trafficking

The investigation was launched after a couple from Be’er Sheva discovered on Facebook that their daughter had flown to Turkey to have a kidney removed.

The Be'er Sheva courthouse. The photo shows a modern high-rise building clad in pale limestone.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Five men were indicted on Tuesday for organ trafficking, a case that came to light in recent months in southern Israel.

The five allegedly controlled an extensive network of buyers and sellers. The organ "donors" have been found to be poor and to have sold organs as a last resort, frequently under alleged threat by the ringleaders.

The investigation was launched after a couple from Be’er Sheva discovered on Facebook that their daughter had flown to Turkey to have a kidney removed. After the parents filed a police complaint against the ring, the police discovered that its leader had fled the country and a manhunt ensued.

The police say the network was well organized, locating donors by placing ads in newspapers and by word of mouth, forging official government papers and stamps, providing medical tests for the buyers and sellers and flying the donors to Turkey, and making sure they did not contact anyone while they were there.

The indictments name two men, Kobi Dayan and Uzi Shmueli, as the ringleaders, accusing them of taking most of the profits from the sale of the organs. Their job was allegedly to find the buyers and sellers, liaise with the hospital abroad and pass on instructions to the other members of the network.

Another suspected member of the network was named as Daniel Pe’er, who is said to speak several languages and was assigned to accompany the donor and recipient in the Turkish hospital.

The indictment names another alleged member of the network as Shlomi Biton, who was said to have been responsible for using various means to pressure the sellers, in case they decided to back out of the deal.

According to the police, Biton threatened the sellers with statements like: “if you go back to Israel without donating, we’ll wait for you with a gun with a bullet in the chamber,” or “I’ll wipe you out and your whole family.”

The physician in charge of the medical side of the operation, according to the indictment, is Michael Ziss, who is alleged to have carried out the necessary tests for compatibility on donors and recipients and to advise when necessary.

Some of the suspects have police records and told the police they have been involved in organ trafficking for the past decade. They also said they were connected to a crime organization.

The police say that the sellers of the organs would receive payment of about 60,000 shekels ($17,100), although the buyers paid an average 800,000 shekels.

The police have so far located 10 buyers and sellers, and there are believed to be many more who refuse to come forward for fear they will be harmed.

“This is exploitation of the situation of people who have run out of options, including loans on the gray market, and all they have left is to donate a kidney,” a police official said. “The buyer is waiting for a suitable donor in the accepted way, which can take time, and so sometimes they go for these solutions.”

Brig. Gen. Peretz Amar, commander of the Negev district police, said some of the women the police have located have already donated an organ and some changed their mind at the last minute. “The investigation is still underway and we will probably reach other individuals involved in the coming days,” he said.