KATMANDU, Nepal – The alleged mastermind of an organ transplant operation in India that illegally removed hundreds of kidneys — sometimes from unwilling donors — has been arrested at a jungle resort in southern Nepal, an official said Friday.
The international manhunt for the fugitive doctor, Amit Kumar, ended Thursday night when Nepalese police arrested him in Chitwan, 160 kilometers (100 miles) south of Katmandu, local police chief Kiran Gautam said.
He was found with US$230,000 in cash and a check for US$24,000.
Local news reports said he was identified by a hotel employee who recognized him from Indian television broadcasts seen in Nepal.
Indian police say Kumar was the mastermind of an illegal organ trading operation based in Gurgaon, an upscale New Delhi suburb. Authorities believe up to 500 kidneys were sold to clients who traveled to India from around the world over the past nine years. Some unwilling donors — often barely literate day laborers — were held at gunpoint before their organs were harvested.
"That is wrong, absolutely wrong. I have not duped anybody," Kumar said when he was briefly brought before reporters in Katmandu.
"I can only say that I have not committed any crime," he said.
While the low cost of medical care in India has made it an increasingly popular destination for foreigners in need of everything from tummy tucks to heart surgery, the Gurgaon kidney transplant racket shocked the country, sparking debates about medical ethics and organ transplant laws.
Kumar has been accused in past organ transplant schemes elsewhere in India. Authorities said last month they believed he had fled the country, and Interpol was contacted for help.
The Times of India newspaper quoted Sriprakash Jaiswal, India's junior federal home minister, as saying he hoped Kumar would be extradited soon.
But Kumar, who was transferred to Katmandu on Friday, will first be charged and tried in Nepal for violating the Foreign Currency Act by not declaring the cash he was carrying, and if he is convicted he could be jailed for up to four years, said Upendra Aryal, a top police officer.
Police were also investigating whether he was involved in illegal kidney transplants in Nepal, Aryal said. A preliminary investigation suggested Kumar was a frequent visitor to the country and had been looking for land where he could build a hospital for kidney transplants, he said.
Investigators had said earlier that Kumar may have fled to Canada, where Indian police say his wife and two sons live.
The Toronto Star newspaper reported that Kumar's family lives in the Toronto-area suburb of Brampton, where he and his wife bought a house last April for US$610,000, moving in shortly afterward.
The Star said Kumar was last seen in Brampton before Christmas.
There long have been reports of poor Indians illegally selling kidneys, but the transplant racket in Gurgaon is one of the most extensive to come to light. Some victims were forced onto the operating table at gunpoint, while others were tricked with promises of work, Gurgaon police Commissioner Mohinder Lal told reporters last month.
Police raided the operation's main clinic in Gurgaon in January and broke up the ring, which spanned five Indian states and involved at least four doctors, several hospitals, two dozen nurses and paramedics and a car outfitted as a laboratory. Subsequent raids uncovered a kidney transplant waiting list with 48 names.
The raid also found five foreigners — three Greeks and two Americans of Indian descent — who authorities believe were waiting for transplants.
Survivors of the racket described horrific scenes of being brought to Gurgaon with promises of construction jobs, then being forcibly sedated.
"We have taken your kidney," a masked man told Mohammed Salim, a poor day laborer, when he awoke after his surgery in agonizing pain. "If you tell anyone, we'll shoot you."