Costa Rican Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) arrested three doctors this morning and the owner of a pizzeria in the latest phase of an investigation into organ trafficking in the Central American country.
OIJ Director Francisco Segura estimated the number of victims at roughly 20, but said that the investigation was ongoing and encouraged others to come forward. The ring specialized in extracting and implanting kidneys.
These are the latest arrests in a three-month investigation into the kidney trafficking network allegedly headed by Dr. Francisco José Mora Palma, arrested in June, who authorities said had been operating the illegal network since 2009.
Thursday morning authorities arrested 48-year-old urologist Fabian Fonseca Guzmán; Massimiliano Anunzia Mauro Stamati, 41, urologist; Victor Hugo Monge Monge, 58, peripheral vascular doctor; and Dimosthenis Katsigiannis Karkasi, 55, owner of the Akropolis pizzeria.
The ring used the pizzeria near the Calerdón Guardia Hospital to recruit their victims. “Donors” would meet with Karkasi who would take them to another nearby location where they would be put in touch with the surgeons and exchange money.
Segura said that the arrests took place at the Calderón Guardia Hospital, in San José and another in Hacienda Pinilla, Santa Ana, Guanacaste. OIJ arrested Karkasi at his restaurant following the OIJ’s press conference Thursday morning.
Authorities also raided homes and offices for evidence, including documents and electronic equipment.
Acting Attorney General Carlos María said that those arrested played various roles in the ring, from its mastermind to recruiters to those “who bloodied their hands,” the surgeons.
The acting attorney general described the victims as people in dire straights or those with little economic means, but not necessarily indigent. He added that the victims identified so far came from various locations across Costa Rica.
Reportedly, “donors” were paid between $6,000 and $20,000 for a kidney. Jiménez said that the organs were likely sold for between $80,000 and $100,000 each.
Selling an organ is illegal in Costa Rica. Living organ donations are legal but only without monetary or other compensation or under duress. Jiménez said that the traffic of persons for the purpose of organ harvesting is punishable in Costa Rica with six to 10 years in prison under Article 172 of the Penal Code.
The investigation into the nationalities of those who received the organs is ongoing, according to law enforcement.
The OIJ director added that they would pursue recipients of the organs only if the practice of purchasing an organ was legal in their country of origin and they were brought to Costa Rica to receive the illicit transplant under false pretenses.
Earlier this summer, Israeli customs agents alerted Costa Rica were alerted to suspicious travel by two Ticos. The interim attorney general did not expand on the connection with Israel, noting that the case was one of many.
Jiménez said that the investigation currently focused domestically but if the evidence suggested that the ring had international reach they would pursue it.
While OIJ said that there was no evidence yet suggesting that the management of the private clinics where some of the illicit surgeries took place were aware of the trafficking.
In June, OIJ reported that some of the surgeries took place at the public Calderón Guardia Hospital and the private Clínica Bíblica hospital, both in San José.
This story is developing. Follow updates at ticotimes.net.