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Kidneys ‘removed from poor Indians at gunpoint’

By Andrew Buncombe in Delhi Tuesday, 29 January

kidney.jpgPolice at India’s airports are on the alert for a doctor accused of masterminding an illegal organ transplant ring that harvested more than 500 kidneys from itinerant labourers for wealthy patients. Some donors say they were tricked into taking part and forced at gunpoint to have the operation.

‘Listen we have just taken one of your kidneys. You will live normally. Tell this to anyone and we will kill you,’ said a masked man.”

Working from a house in a city near Delhi, the doctor is said to have taken kidneys from hundreds of labourers in the past nine years and transplanted them to high-paying recipients, many from overseas. Neighbours said they wondered what was happening when they saw blood running out of the gutters. Reports say transplant recipients paid up to £300,000 while the people who sold their organs received £625 if they were paid at all.

The perpetrators are said to have used a car fitted with medical equipment which travelled around the region and performed blood tests on prospective donors. If a match was found, the donor was offered a deal on the spot.

Last week police raided the three-storey house in the city of Gurgaon, one of India’s new IT and business centres, from which they say the ring operated. A doctor, his driver and three others described as “middlemen” were arrested while police also discovered five donors – three of whom had already undergone an operation and were recovering. They also discovered five patients, three non-resident Indians from the US and two Greek citizens, awaiting transplants.

But police have not found the man they believe was at the centre of the operation, a doctor called Amit Kumar who used an alias, Santosh Rameshwar Raut. Reports say Mr Kumar – using his alias – had been charged by police in Mumbai over a similar organ transplant racket in the early 1990s.

Local media reported that labourers who accepted offers of £2-a-day construction jobs in Gurgaon were taken to house where armed guards injected them with sedatives. When they woke up they were told that they had undergone an operation. Mohammad Shakeel, 28, told the Hindustan Times. “I woke up with a terrible pain behind my stomach. ‘Listen we have just taken one of your kidneys. You will live normally. Tell this to anyone and we will kill you,’ said a masked man.”

Police believe Mr Kumar may have travelled to Nepal and say they have uncovered six other properties in Gurgaon from which the scheme operated.

Detectives say that up to 20 nurses may also have been involved and that several hospitals in Delhi may have played a role, albeit unwittingly, by conducting pathology tests.

Last year, police in south India said they had uncovered evidence of illegal trade in kidneys sold by fishermen whose livelihoods were destroyed by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

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