Netcare fined R4m for illegal transplants

10 November 2010 - 00:49 By NIVASHNI NAIR

Netcare KwaZulu-Natal, which owns one of the country's top private hospitals, St Augustine's, pleaded guilty to playing a role in an international kidneys-for-sale syndicate.

Criminal charges against Netcare Limited and its CEO, Richard Friedland, were unconditionally withdrawn as a result of a plea agreement.

The company was fined R20000 for contravening the Human Tissues Act by allowing minors to donate kidneys. A further R4-million fine was imposed for receiving cash and participating in an illegal kidney transplant scheme conducted at the hospital.

Netcare will also have to pay R3.8-million to the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

According to the original charge sheet Netcare, Friedland, prominent kidney specialist Jeffrey Kallmeyer, specialist surgeons and academics, professors John Robbs and Ariff Haffejee, and doctors Neil Christopher and Mahadev Naidoo, transplant unit staff Lindy Dickson and Melanie Azor, and Israeli interpreter Samuel Ziegler 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.

The chairman of Netcare's board, Jerry Vilakazi, yesterday said it became evident to the company and its legal team that certain employees must have been aware that kidney donors were not related to recipients, that payments must have been made to donors for their kidneys and that certain kidney donors were minors at the time that their kidneys were removed.

"The conduct of these employees is attributable to NKZ," Friedland said, adding that none of the employees implicated in the syndicate were currently employed by Netcare.

"The employees concerned not only contravened the law but also disregarded Netcare's internal policies which stipulated that ministerial permission in cases of transplants between non-related persons was to be obtained and that donations could only be done for altruistic purposes," he said.

At the board's request Friedland will not seek legal redress against "those responsible for wrongfully instigating criminal proceedings against him".

The charges against the five doctors, two transplant unit staff and interpreter still remain. They will appear in court on November 23.

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