Police discovered a local organ trade operation in which young women were convinced to donate organs for older, wealthier, clients in return for cash, it was revealed Tuesday.

The investigation began a month ago but was under a gag order until Tuesday, when Southern Region police announced that they were searching for a Beersheba man, said to be in his forties, who is believed to be the key broker in the scheme. Two other men have already been arrested in the ongoing investigation.

According to police, women aged 18-20 were paid to donate kidneys to women in their 50s from the central region of the country. The organ donors were paid around NIS 20,000 ($5,700) for their body parts and the surgical procedures were carried out in Turkey.

Negev Subdistrict Police Chief Peretz Amar said that apparently several women had already donated organs, but others backed out at the last minute.

“These are young women in a financial crisis, who are tempted to sell their organs for amounts that for those women are a large sum,” Amar said.

The organ traders preyed on young women with financial difficulties, introducing them to potential recipients via the Internet to build a relationship and apply emotional pressure to convince them to donate their organs, a police source said, according to Ynet.

“Emotion is a significant part of the story,” the source said. “And it is not completely out of touch with the reality because these are people who have serious medical problems.”

Authorities first became aware of the illegal activities after the parents of an 18-year-old woman discovered that she had traveled to Florence Nightingale Hospital in Istanbul, Turkey, to donate her kidney to an Israeli woman. The parents informed the police and succeeded in contacting their daughter, whom they convinced to return to Israel.

The woman  was arrested upon her arrival. During questioning the girl claimed that she had not been paid to donate her kidney, and that she was doing it out of compassion for the intended recipient. However, police suspect that she was to be paid for making the donation.

The girl also revealed that during her time in Turkey another young woman, aged 20, went ahead with the procedure and donated her kidney. Police arrested the second woman when she returned to Israel but she, too, insisted that she had made the donation out of compassion. Nonetheless, the woman reportedly regretted her decision and told police that the organ receiver had paid some NIS 300,000 ($86,000) to the broker for her kidney.

The recipient was questioned by police when she arrived back in Israel but claimed that she had not bought the kidney and that it was donated freely.

An Israeli-American woman, said to be in her fifties, was also in Turkey at the time to receive a kidney, and fled to the US rather then return to Israel, police said.

Police also investigated a doctor in central Israel who reportedly carried out the various medical tests to ensure that the donors and receivers were a match. The doctor he insisted he was not paid for his services, which included reviewing several potential donors, and he has since been released.

Police are still trying to uncover the full extent of the network, and have joined forces with Interpol to follow leads that indicate that the Israeli branch may have only been one part of an international operation.

MK Zehava Gal-on (Meretz) wrote on her Facebook page that the source of the problem is a lack of available organs for donation.

“There is no doubt that there is a real crisis in the lack of organs for donation,” she wrote. “People are forced to wait a long time, people are tempted, out of despair, to buy organs from other donors.”

The solution is to increase to available stocks of organs by making the default for all deceased people that their organs can be donated unless they previously specifically made it clear that they do not want to, Galon said. She added that she has already sponsored a bill to make her suggestion become law.

Israeli law only allows organ donations from non-family members on condition that it is approved by the appropriate authorities and that there is no financial transaction involved for the benefit of the donor or the person who sets up the donation.