12 arrested over international kidney scam

The Israeli government has been dragged into the international kidney transplant trafficking scandal, with claims that it financed the illegal operations done at St Augustine's Hospital in Durban through its own state health care schemes.

But while an alleged syndicate member has claimed to a Brazilian court that "the Israeli government is aware of the traffic in organs" other evidence indicates that the Israeli government was possibly also a victim of the syndicate.

The syndicate recruited kidney donors from Brazil and paid them about $10 000 (about R72 200) to come to Durban to donate a kidney.

The organs were then transplanted into Israeli recipients, who apparently paid the syndicate up to $120 000 (about R864 000) for the flights, accommodation, operations and the organs.

All the operations - about 80 in the past two years - were done by surgeons at St Augustine's Hospital.

The lid came off the scandal late last year with the arrest of Israeli kidney recipient Agania Robel as he was being discharged from the hospital.

In a guilty plea before a Durban magistrate, Robel admitted to paying $45 000 (about R325 000) for the kidney, which was donated by Brazilian Rogerio Bozzera da Silva, who had been paid $6 000 (about R43 320) for it.

He revealed that an insurance claim was to be instituted in Israel in connection with the operation.

Next in court was the Durban "co-ordinator" of the syndicate Roderick Kimberley. He also pleaded guilty and said he had been recruited by an Israeli called Ilan Perry to look after the donors and recipients while they were in Durban.

This week in Brazil, retired Israeli army officer Geldaya Tauber Gady, under arrest in Brazil for belonging to the international trafficking ring, also mentioned "Ilan", an Israeli government official, as the man who had put him in touch with an intermediary in Brazil.

According to a Sapa report, he told the court: "The Israeli government is aware of the traffic in organs for patients in its country and pays for all the transactions through four health plans. I never thought the government was financing anything illegal. I was only helping people in need."

The Independent On Saturday has information that Perry has been arrested in Israel for tax evasion, the government claiming he owes it $5-million (about R36-million).

But during the investigation it came to light he had also submitted false invoices to the government health plan for the illegal South African organ donor operations.

While the operations actually cost between R80 000 and R100 000 (between $11 000 and $14 000), Perry, it is alleged, was using falsified St Augustine's letterheads and claiming back $120 000 (R864 000) from the government.

Israel's deputy ambassador in South Africa Daniel Pinhasi said on Friday he could not comment on the details.

"We do know that there has been full co-operation between the police in South Africa and Israel and through us, our government is watching developments here closely.

"I cannot comment on any of the other information."

Also arrested in Brazil for his role in the syndicate is retired military police captain Ivan Bonifacio da Silva.

Reports from that country say when he was questioned by an investigating committee this week, he said the network operated in at least eight countries. Transplants were performed in Durban on Israeli, Iranian and American recipients using organs from Brazilian, Russian and Romanian donors.

So far 12 people, including some of the donors, have been arrested in Brazil. In South Africa, along with Kimberley and Robel, a third man, Sushan Meir, was arrested. Meir, from Johannesburg, will appear in court in Durban again next month.

Police have indicated that the investigation is still continuing and more arrests are imminent.

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