Netcare charged in organs-for-cash scam

15 September 2010 - 23:56 By NIVASHNI NAIR

South Africa's leading private hospital group, its chief executive, and five top Durban doctors have been criminally charged for their alleged roles in an international kidneys-for-sale syndicate.

Netcare, its head, Richard Friedland, Durban's St Augustine's Hospital, two transplant unit staff and an Israeli interpreter were yesterday served with summons on 11 charges. These include 109 counts of fraud, 21 counts of forgery, 21 counts of uttering, 109 counts of serious assault, and charges of contravening the Human Tissues Act and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

Charged yesterday were transplant unit staff Lindy Dickson and Melanie Azor, and Israeli interpreter Samuel Ziegler.

Prominent kidney specialist Jeffrey Kallmeyer, specialist surgeons and two top academics, professors John Robbs and Ariff Haffejee, and doctors Neil Christopher and Mahadev Naidoo, are expected to be summonsed today.

They will appear together in a Durban court in November.

According to the charge sheet, the 11 accused were involved in an "illegal scheme" to give kidney transplants to wealthy Israelis, using organs donated by poor Brazilians, Romanians and Israelis.

To legitimise the surgery, documents were allegedly forged to show that the donor and the recipient were related - a requirement in South Africa.

After the syndicate was exposed in 2003, five doctors were arrested two years later. Netcare was not implicated.

However, after the charges against the doctors were dropped and a new investigation started, the state brought charges against Netcare for allegedly setting up the syndicate with Kallmeyer and an Israeli "organ broker", Ilan Perry, who has turned state witness.

"Israeli citizens in need of kidney transplants would be brought to South Africa for transplants at StAugustine's Hospital. They paid kidney suppliers for these operations . [the kidneys] were initially sourced from Israeli citizens, but later Romanian and Brazilian citizens were recruited as their kidneys were obtainable at a much lower cost than those of the Israeli suppliers," the charge sheet states.

Recipients are alleged to have paid Perry between R700000 and R850000 to arrange a kidney transplant in South Africa.

"The Israeli kidney suppliers were paid approximately $20000 [R141000]. Later, cheaper suppliers were sourced among Romanian and Brazilian citizens, who were paid, on average, about $6000 [R42000] for their kidneys," the state alleges.

Perry's company, UDG, or its agents, are alleged to have paid StAugustine's Hospital before each transplant operation.

"Netcare and Netcare KwaZulu-Natal, trading as StAugustine's Hospital, would receive payments from UDG or Perry and would disburse the money received to other accused and service providers, including the surgeons, for their services," the charge sheet states.

Payments to Kallmeyer are believed to have been made into his Canadian bank account. At the start of the investigation, Kallmeyer fled the country and the police have not located him.

The state alleges that Friedland was, as chief executive of the Netcare group and a director of StAugustine's Hospital, aware of the illegal kidney trade at the hospital, but "nevertheless permitted these operations" to continue.

The state also holds him responsible for the conduct of the Netcare staff alleged to have worked closely with the syndicate.

But yesterday, Friedland denied the charges.

Netcare spokesman Martina Nicholson said: "After several years of co-operating fully with the police and providing the investigating officer with countless affidavits, it has come as a great surprise and disappointment that the prosecuting authority has seen fit to bring charges against Netcare Ltd, Netcare KZN, and Richard Friedland.

"[They] vigorously deny any wrongdoing and intend to defend the charges."

The state has convicted two of the alleged syndicate's South African "co-ordinators", Roderick Kimberly and Sushan Meir, who both pleaded guilty to related charges. Meir has since died.

A Brazilian court sentenced kidney-donor recruiters Captain Ivan da Silva and Gaby Tauber to eight years in jail for their roles in the syndicate.

"There is a worldwide shortage of organ donors from deceased persons. The only other source of donors is living people," said a document included in the indictment.

All countries, with the exception of Iran, prohibit the sale of organs or human tissue. -

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