2 charged with running international organ traffic ring

Patients allegedly paid $180,000 for a kidney; illegal transplants carried out in Turkey, Bulgaria, Thailand, Philippines

Illustrative: Doctors performing an organ transplant. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Doctors performing an organ transplant. (Flash90)

Charges were filed Monday in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court against two men accused of running a major international organ trafficking operation that would match Israelis in need of transplants with foreign donors for a price of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Roini Shimshilashvili and Albert Murdakhayev were charged with multiple counts of trafficking in organs, brokering organ trafficking and conspiracy, according to a court statement. A third man, identified as a doctor, Zachi Shapira, was charged with multiple counts of assisting in organ trafficking.

According to the indictment, Shimshilashvili and Murdakhayev were part of a similar ring in which they would escort patients to transplants. After that was broken up in 2014, they branched out on their own.

The two men allegedly found prospective donors from the former Soviet Union who matched sick Israelis. The donors would be paid to donate their kidneys to the Israelis, “who paid sums of up to $180,000 in most cases,” the court heard. It was not clear how much the donors were paid.

Shapira would check to see that the donors were medically suitable and matched the prospective recipients.

In the last two years, the ring reportedly arranged for 14 transplants in four countries; Turkey, Bulgaria, Thailand and Philippines.

After finding a donor, the patient would be escorted to meet the donor, where they would be briefed on a cover story about being relatives or friends, before they approached the hospitals where the transplant would take place.

In many countries it is illegal to take a payment for a kidney donation in order to prevent traffickers from preying on the poor.

To disguise their actions, the suspects allegedly set up a firm that claimed to provide logistical support for an Albanian company that did carry out organ transplants, the court heard, adding that patients signed fictitious contracts whereby the firm specifically stated that it did not locate donors.

The prosecution asked the court to hold the men without remand.

Several Israeli organ trafficking rings have been broken up in recent years, with operations from Brazil to Turkey. In 2014, a former soccer player for Hapoel Beersheba, Uzi Shmueli, was arrested in Cyprus on similar suspicions. Shmueli allegedly headed a crime ring that lured struggling young Israeli women, mostly from the south of the country, to Turkey and paid them NIS 20,000 (some $5,750) for a kidney.

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