Would-be donors reveal details of organ trafficking ring linking Costa Rica and Israel

March 19, 2014

A pair of Costa Ricans said they traveled to Tel Aviv to sell one of their left kidneys for $20,000 to an Israeli business, according to Spanish news outlet El País.

The two Costa Ricans, from the province of Cartago, were originally detained at the Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel’s capital, in March 2013, and El País published their information on Monday.

The couple could not convince Israeli authorities that they had a legitimate reason to enter the country and were detained.

Between June and October of 2013, Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigative Police (OIJ) arrested four doctors, one police officer, and a pizzeria owner allegedly involved in the trafficking ring. Three of the doctors were arrested at the Calderón Guardia Hospital in central San José, and accused of using the nearby, and now closed, Pizzeria Akropolis to recruit organ donors.

According to the testimony of the would-be donor apprehended in Israel, the operation there was organized by a Costa Rican doctor named Francisco José Mora Palma.

“He warned us not to comment about anything discussed, the extraction of the kidney nor the supposed pay there would be,” the alleged donor said, according to testimony obtained by El País.

The would-be donor said Mora performed blood tests on her and paid for both Costa Ricans to fly to Israel. However, he provided them with no contacts, travel expenses or a place to stay in the country, leading Israeli authorities to be suspicious on their arrival.

Costa Rica’s Prosecutor’s Office said at least 20 donors were lured in by the ring, due to their difficult financial situations. They estimated traffickers could sell the organs for as much as $100,000.

Selling an organ is illegal in Costa Rica. Living organ donations are legal but only without monetary or other compensation, nor under duress. The Prosecutor’s Office said that the traffic of persons for the purpose of organ harvesting is punishable in Costa Rica with up to 10 years in prison under Article 172 of the Penal Code.

According to the Costa Rican daily La Nación, Mora served six months preventive detention and was released on bail. The other three doctors, the daily reported, “were investigated but not jailed.” They returned to work at the hospital last November, La Nación reported. The pizzeria owner also was released.

El País reported that the ring was originally based in Israel, but had moved to Costa Rica due to the country’s high number of medical tourists.

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