Five people are set to go on trial in Costa Rica for their alleged roles in a major organ trafficking ring that sold kidneys harvested in the Central American nation to buyers in Israel.
Costa Rica’s Prosecutor’s Office on Organized Crime has charged four officials from Calderón Guardia Hospital in the capital of San José along with the owner of a pizzeria across the street from the medical center with human trafficking for the purpose of organ extraction. They allegedly sold at least 14 kidneys to foreign buyers, mostly Israelis, from 2009 to 2013, according to the Tico Times.
While the prosecutor’s office did not mention the first names of any of those arrested, the ringleader of the ring is believed to be a person surnamed Mora Palma, the former head of nephrology at Calderón Guardia. Mora Palma allegedly was responsible for finding people in Costa Rica willing to sell their kidneys and connecting them with buyers in Israel.
The pizza shop across the street from the hospital was used as a meeting point, where kidney donors would speak to the owner who would take them to another location where they would be paid and put in touch with the doctors. The donors were paid as much as $20,000 for a kidney, which retail on the black market for more than $100,000.
The surgeries to remove the kidneys took place took place in a number of medical facilities around San José.
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It is illegal to sell organs in Costa Rica, and the crime is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
In 2014, the New York Times reported that Israel has become a major hotspot for illegally trafficked kidneys, due to the lack of organ donations from deceased individuals due to religious proscriptions regarding human remains. The illegal organ trade is more prevalent in places like China and India, but authorities say the tactics of recruiting impoverished people to become donors are common throughout the world.