Organ harvesting: He was forced into hiding after being trafficked for his kidney

a surgeon with a scalpel

The UK's first case of human trafficking for organ harvesting resulted from a man who had been sleeping rough walking into a police station close to Heathrow Airport. Unprecedented access to the Metropolitan Police team that looked into this historic case has been granted to the BBC.

The biggest shock of Daniel's life was about to happen.

He was conversing with doctors in a consulting room at the Royal Free hospital in London using his limited English.

The Nigerian street vendor, age 21, had traveled to the UK days earlier in search of a "life-changing opportunity.". He believed he would be hired for a better position.

The risks of the procedure and the requirement for ongoing medical care were now being discussed with him by doctors.

At that point, according to Daniel's account to investigators, he realized there was no job opportunity and that he had been brought to the UK in order to donate a kidney to a total stranger.

He was going to be "literally cut up like a piece of meat, take what they wanted out of him, and then stitch him back up," according to Christine Huddlestone of the anti-modern slavery organization Justice and Care.

Fortunately for Daniel, the medical professionals had started to worry that he was being forced into the procedure and had grown suspicious of him. Therefore, they stopped the process.

However, Daniel's traffickers were still with him. Two men arrived at the apartment where he was staying to examine him. When that happened, he overheard a discussion about sending him back to Nigeria to have his kidney removed there.

He ran away, and after spending two nights rough sleeping, he entered a police station close to Heathrow. This sparked an investigation that resulted in the UK's first human trafficking case to be prosecuted.

That was in May 2022, and Daniel—not his real name—now resides in a heavily guarded neighborhood. According to information obtained by the BBC's File on 4, his groundbreaking case made UK authorities aware of additional organ trafficking cases. Among them are:.

  • An Indian man in his 60s who was detained in the UK on suspicion of planning to use a victim for organ harvesting. He was taken into custody earlier this month and later freed on bail.
  • a case that the Human Tissue Authority, which in the UK must approve living organ transplants, referred to police after it refused to give the go-ahead.
  • The authority has also reported a "handful" of additional cases where individuals it believes have illegally paid for transplants abroad and then returned to the UK to the police.
  • According to the Met Police, it is still looking into "other outstanding suspects" from its initial probe.

The strategy used by traffickers to entice individuals to the UK under false pretenses is revealed by Daniel's case.

Daniel was asked to undergo a blood test when he was initially given the opportunity to work in the UK while he was still in Nigeria. He mistook it for an examination for his UK visa when, in reality, it was a test to see if his body was stable enough to have a kidney removed.

Then, he was placed on a flight to London, but he had no money and was not permitted to touch his passport. His every action was now under control.

He was then introduced to the young Nigerian woman who wanted his kidney by his traffickers.

When she was 25 years old, Sonia had a severe case of kidney disease. She requires a transplant and undergoes five hours of dialysis every day, three or four times per week.

Sonia Ekweremadu poses with potential kidney donor
Daniel, a model posing with Sonia Ekwermadu, is not his real name.

He was introduced as her cousin and a willing donor for his family member in a photograph that was taken of their meeting as proof of their relationship.

This is so that people understand that while it is legal to donate an organ to someone else, you cannot do so in exchange for money.

  • Organ harvesting is the illegal removal of body parts for transplant, frequently done without the victim's knowledge and often for financial gain. According to laws against modern slavery, a victim cannot agree to their own exploitation.
  • It frequently entails coercion, deceit, or the promise of a reward for helpless victims.
  • Organ harvesting is covered by the Modern Slavery Act of 2015 in the United Kingdom. Maximum punishment for the crime is life in prison.

At the Royal Free Hospital in London's private patients' unit, Daniel was brought along to a number of consultations with medical consultants. Additionally, a paid interpreter trained Daniel to say what the doctors wanted to hear.

The trick, however, didn't work, and Daniel called the police.

One of Nigeria's most powerful politicians, Sonia's father, was located thanks to his testimony to the police.

Ike Ekweremadu was a wealthy multi-millionaire senior senator who was funding the education of his family in the UK.

Ekweremadu claimed he had been misled during his trial earlier this year and had never intended to take advantage of Daniel. In fact, the jury learned that the defendant had assisted in introducing laws making organ donations for reward a crime in Nigeria.

Senator Ike Ekweremadu is a prominent Nigerian politician
A well-known politician in Nigeria was Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

It was revealed in court that Daniel was not the only person who had been brought to the UK to have a kidney removed. In 2021, a second transplant—also unlawful—took place.

In fact, Sonia's parents, the Ekweremadus, and the man who took that organ for himself were in the dock. Daniel's exploitation had been planned by their middleman, Dr. Obinna Obeta.

Because his own transplant had also taken place at the Royal Free Hospital, Dr. Obeta was familiar with the procedure.

In describing the first operation during sentencing, Mr. Justice Johnson was direct: "The clinicians at the Royal Free, and the independent assessors at the Human Tissue Authority, were taken in by the lie. ".

The deception was that it was assumed the donor and recipient were cousins when the transplant in 2021 was done. In actuality, it turned out that they were unrelated.

Dr Obinna Obeta and the senator's wife, Beatrice
Additionally found guilty were the senator's wife, Beatrice, and the middleman, Dr. Obinna Obeta.

In addition, the court heard that although Daniel's transplant had been stopped, no one from the Royal Free had alerted the police to their worries, leaving Daniel still in danger.

The Royal Free Hospital informed us that because it had complied with official instructions in Daniel's case, "a decision was taken not to proceed.".

In addition, the hospital stated that it "remains committed to working closely with the Metropolitan Police to ensure that all those working in our transplant services are aware of the law surrounding organ trafficking and know what to do if they suspect a crime has been committed.".

Having a paid transplant performed abroad was made a crime in England, Scotland, and Wales in July of last year. In Great Britain, it is now legally required for all clinicians to report any patients who have returned and come to them for follow-up care.

Dr. Adnan Sharif, a kidney specialist in Birmingham, claims it is a difficult crime to prove, but adds, "We know that it happens" He cites recent NHS research showing there have been about 150 recorded cases of people returning to the UK over a 10-year period. Kidney transplants predominated in most cases.

Since the law was changed last July, we enquired of The Human Tissue Authority (HTA) how many cases they had reported to the police.

A "handful" of cases, according to chief executive Dr. Colin Sullivan, have been reported; he added that some of those were flagged by physicians and other clinicians.

In order to more easily identify higher risk cases, he claimed that the HTA had changed both its IT systems and staff training.

Cases of modern slavery are frequently very difficult to establish.

Because the offenders had left the country in Daniel's case, the Met officers anticipated the investigation would take years.

But on June 21, 2022, Det Sgt. Andy Owen got a call informing him that Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice were arriving in London by plane.

Armed officers led the couple out of the plane as he quickly organized his team to arrive at Heathrow.

The police discovered the scheme after seizing the suspects' cell phones. Messages referring to a $4,317 (or $5,487) donation fee were important pieces of evidence.

According to Det Sgt. Owen, "It was like a treasure chest.". "I kept discovering more and more damning proof. " .

Text messages

However, it wasn't easy to deal with such a strong suspect.

Senators from Nigeria attempted to relocate the trial to their country in the middle of the investigation.

According to Det Supt Andy Furphy, they also wanted to "have access to the victim," which "raises huge red flags for us. We recognized the victim's danger right away. ".

After consulting with counsel, police were able to make sure that access was restricted.

Adamu Bulkachuwa, the senator who led the delegation that paid a visit to Ike Ekweremadu in jail, was interviewed by File on 4. He claimed that in order to try and salvage the situation, he had wanted to "apply executive pressure as well as diplomatic pressure on the British government.".   .

Because "we are also signatories to the international human trafficking laws," Mr. Bulkachuwa insisted that it was not to give his colleague an "easier ride" back home.   .

Daniel's ordeal's three perpetrators were convicted on March 23. Ike Ekweremadu was given a nine year, eight month prison term. Beatrice, his wife, received 4.5 years. Dr. Obeta, the middleman, was given a ten-year prison term.   .

Sonia was found not responsible.

In court with Daniel was Det Sgt. Owen.

He actually asked, "What does guilty mean?' That shows how little knowledge he had of the legal system. " .

People who saw "a young man just out for himself... to get as much money as he could" instead got a very different impression thanks to that response and the victim's refusal to accept compensation from the perpetrators, according to Det Sgt Owen.

He told the BBC that Daniel was relieved to be taken seriously and simply wished to resume his life.

The disappearance of Daniel, according to Daniel's brother, has caused his father and siblings to sob daily.

This episode has caused Daniel's loved ones back in Nigeria nothing but heartache.

They now worry about retaliation attacks from friends of the influential Nigerian politician he jailed.

When Daniel used to sell cell phone accessories in the crowded Lagos market, we ran into his brother.

He claimed that he hasn't spoken to his brother since his sudden disappearance in February 2022 and that he only learned of his whereabouts when reports of the trial surfaced several months later.

My father has been so sick with grief that he has been crying every day, he claims.   .

Daniel was taken advantage of and tricked. ".

Market stall
At a busy market in Lagos, Daniel used to sell cellphone accessories.

Adamant that he would not have agreed to sell his kidney is Daniel's landlord and mentor, with whom he spoke every day before he disappeared.

"Because he is aware that there are other ways to monetize. "He wouldn't have done it even for £1 million," the speaker claimed.

Daniel now worries about his safety. He feels he cannot go back to Nigeria because he is in the UK and is protected by the police. Possibly never again will he see his family.

His life has been destroyed despite the fact that he saved his kidney and wrote legal history.

File on 4: You can listen to BBC Radio 4's The Organ Harvesters now on BBC Sounds starting at 20:00.

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