LONDON, March 23 (Reuters) – A wealthy Nigerian politician and his wife were convicted on Thursday of trafficking a street trader from Lagos to Britain to illegally harvest his kidney for a transplant for their seriously-ill daughter.
Prosecutors said Ike Ekweremadu, 60, and his wife Beatrice, 56, had brought the man to London in February last year with the offer of a few thousand dollars for his organ and the promise of work in Britain.
Ekweremadu, an opposition senator in the southern Nigerian state of Enugu and also a former deputy senate president, and his wife were significant figures in Nigerian society with power, influence, a “significant degree of wealth”, London’s Old Bailey court was told.
They were convicted of conspiracy to arrange the travel of another person with a view to exploitation, along with a Nigerian doctor, Obinna Obeta, 51, who was described by prosecutors as a middle man.
“This was an horrific plot to exploit a vulnerable victim by trafficking him to the UK for the purpose of transplanting his kidney,” said Joanne Jakymec, Chief Crown Prosecutor.
“The convicted defendants showed utter disregard for the victim’s welfare, health and well-being and used their considerable influence to a high degree of control throughout, with the victim having limited understanding of what was really going on here.”
Sonia Ekweremadu, the intended recipient of the organ who has a serious and deteriorating kidney condition and requires dialysis, was found not guilty of any part in the plan.
The case came to light when the man, who had made a living in Lagos selling telephone parts from a cart in a market, went to police saying he had been trafficked and someone was trying to harvest his kidney.
The proposed transplant never went ahead as a consultant at London’s Royal Free hospital had become suspicious about the circumstances surrounding the proposed donor, aged about 21 who cannot be named for legal reasons, who the family had tried to pass off as Sonia’s cousin.
Donating a kidney is not unlawful in Britain but it is a criminal offence to offer a reward, regardless of whether the donor is complicit.
“There are however certain things that money and status cannot guarantee in any family, and they include good health,” prosecutor Hugh Davies had told the court.
Police said the guilty verdicts marked the first time someone had been convicted in Britain of human trafficking for the purpose of organ harvesting.
“This conviction sends out a clear message across the world, the UK will not tolerate the international industry in illegal organ removal,” Detective Inspector Esther Richardson said in a statement.
Ike and Beatrice Ekweremadu and Obeta will be sentenced on May 5.