Police Arrest Six Suspects in Organ Trafficking Ring

Police arrested six suspects on Tuesday for alleged involvement in a ring engaged in trafficking human organs and defrauding organ donors. Those detained include retired Brig. Gen. Meir Zamir, who was awarded a medal of valor in the Yom Kippur War for his service in the Golan Heights, as well as two lawyers, Netanel Moyal, 34, and Eliahou Raphaeli, 77.

The police case was opened after a complaint was filed by a woman in her fifties who lives in East Jerusalem. Facing financial difficulties, she told investigators that she'd answered an advertisement in a local Arabic-language newspaper offering $100,000 for kidney donations. The woman was flown to the Central Asian republic of Azerbaijan, where one of her kidneys was removed and transplanted into a patient whom the police suspect was found by Zamir.

The kidney donor told police that, upon her return home, she was not paid the sum promised. Police say they subsequently received similar complaints from other organ donors.

Zamir, 62, resides in Rishon Letzion. As a captain in the Israel Defense Forces, he commanded a tank company during the Yom Kippur War in 1973 which destroyed about 60 enemy tanks seeking to breach Israeli lines south of Quneitra.

The maximum sentence for trafficking in human organs is 16 years in prison. Police say their investigation has uncovered a well-organized network engaged in the sale of organs - composed of traffickers, intermediaries and lawyers operating all over the country, who advertised in the local media and on the Internet. According to Superintendent Erez Yehuda of the northern fraud unit of the Israel Police, all of those who allegedly sold their organs were Israeli citizens, as were most of the organ recipients. At this point, 10 such transactions have reportedly been uncovered, but it is thought that the ring was involved in additional cases and that media coverage will encourage additional organ donors to come forward.

Yehuda said the original complainant from East Jerusalem is now suffering from physical limitations as a result of the kidney surgery. He said there was a division of labor among the members of the ring - some allegedly found potential organ recipients, some found donors and others arranged for the actual transplant operations. Most of the recipients were reportedly ready to pay between $150,000 and $200,000.

Those allegedly involved in scheduling the surgeries are said to have flown doctors from various countries to locations where the transplants were performed. The investigation has revealed that some of the doctors suspected of involvement are Israelis, although Yehuda refused to confirm this.

According to police investigators, the sums charged for organs varied, but involved a minimum of $120,000 for a kidney transplant. The organ donors, most of whom were facing severe financial difficulties, supposedly received no more than about $10,000, while some reportedly received far less or no compensation at all. It is also alleged that when potential organ donors hesitated over selling their organs, the sum offered was substantially increased, convincing them to go ahead with the procedure - despite the fact that the sum was ultimately never paid anyway.

Police investigators found that donors were required to sign a contract along with an affidavit that falsely stated they were related to the organ recipients. The family relationship was required by law in the countries in which the transplants were performed. Donors were reportedly sent to countries in Eastern Europe as well as Ecuador and the Philippines for the operations, and returned to Israel without any medical records, although some are said to have suffered complications following their procedures.

Police said they located additional donors who were set to undergo surgery, warning them that they are victims of a fraudulent organ trafficking ring. The investigation was made public when police arrested an alleged intermediary in the ring at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Tuesday, as he was returning to Israel with a kidney donor and a kidney recipient. The other five suspects were arrested at various locations around Israel.