Ten Israelis were arrested on Tuesday on suspicion of involvement in human trafficking for the purpose of harvesting organs for transplant. They are also suspected of additional crimes including abuse, inflicting grievous bodily harm and tax offenses.
At least one of the suspects is wanted by Interpol for alleged involvement in an organ-trafficking ring operating in Kosovo in 2008.
Requests for legal assistance from foreign law enforcement authorities and from Eulex, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo — who were investigating a kidney trafficking ring — prompted Israeli authorities to investigate.
The Israel Police National Fraud Investigations Unit took on the task, and over several months conducted an undercover operation to track potential suspects in Israel. The request from Eulex for a judicial inquiry raised suspicions that a ring of organ traffickers and middlemen was being operated by Israeli citizens. They are suspected of recruiting organ donors and transplant recipients and orchestrating surgeries carried out in Azerbaijan, Kosovo and another unidentified country in Asia.
The suspects allegedly recruited Israelis from lower socio-economic classes to donate their kidneys, lying to them and exploiting their suffering for financial gain. The suspected traffickers also allegedly searched for potential organ recipients within "closed communities" where everyone knows everyone and exploited their plight by misleading them about the surgery's potential risks. They also allegedly did not provide organ recipients with proper postoperative medical care.
A senior police officer said on Tuesday that some of the alleged ringleaders had undergone organ transplants themselves and "transformed their personal crises into an opportunity."
In addition, police said, the suspects allegedly also acted as middlemen and escorts for Israeli kidney recipients who were flown to foreign countries where they underwent surgery. The suspected traffickers charged more than $100,000 for the surgeries but the donors only received $10,000 for their organs.
"This was a cynical use of simple and needy people — some of whom did not fully understand what they were getting in to — for business purposes," said the senior police officer.
Moti Tzibin, the main suspect's defense attorney, said on Tuesday that his client's arrest was intended to pressure the Justice Ministry to accept the international extradition request filed in Kosovo by Interpol against his client in similar trafficking affairs.
Police arrested the suspects, including a doctor and a couple, on Tuesday morning after a gag order was lifted on the investigation. They are expected to attend a remand extension hearing on Wednesday.
Police are also expected to question the organ recipients, because they allegedly knew they were involved in illegal financial transactions. Israeli law allows for kidney transplants from a relative or other donor only for humanitarian purposes.