Alleged Israeli organ trafficker arrested in Cyprus

Authorities in Israel suspect former soccer player headed crime ring that paid Israeli women for kidneys

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

An Israeli man suspected of illegally trafficking in human organs has been detained in Cyprus for using a fake passport.

Uzi Shmueli, a former professional soccer player for Hapoel Beersheba, 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 their kidneys.

Israeli authorities suspected that he had fled abroad after they opened an investigation into the alleged trafficking ring.

Past reports indicated Israeli patients would pay up to $20,000 for a black market kidney, though it is not clear if Israelis were Shmueli’s main recipients.

Shmueli was traveling to Cyprus to see his wife and daughter, according to the Ynet news site, and was arrested upon his arrival at Larnaca airport. When he presented his passport to authorities, they discovered it was forged. A Cypriot judge sentenced him to four months in prison.

Israeli authorities have not yet said whether they will seek immediate extradition or wait until Shmueli finishes his jail term, after which he would automatically be deported back to Israel.

In June 2013, the Costa Rican Attorney General’s Office alleged that Israeli doctors had performed kidney-removal operations on some Costa Ricans who sold their organs. The organs were allegedly removed both in Costa Rica and Israel.

Under Israel’s New Organ Transplant Law passed in 2008, health maintenance organizations and supplemental insurance companies in the country stopped funding most organ transplants for Israelis abroad if the origin of the organ could be at all suspect.

JTA contributed to this report.

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