A Costa Rican doctor under investigation for running an international kidney trafficking operation was advertising his services on YouTube.
Journalist Amelia Rueda’s news site posted a video on Tuesday of Dr. Francisco José Mora promoting his medical expertise and Costa Rica as an attractive destination for medical tourism.
The Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) arrested Mora at Calderón Guardia Hospital, in San José, where he is chief of nephrology. The arrest is part of an investigation into his involvement in human trafficking with the intent to illegally extract human organs, a violation of Article 172 of Costa Rica’s Penal Code, a Prosecutor’s Office spokeswoman told The Tico Times. If convicted, Mora could serve eight to 16 years in prison, according to the Penal Code.
Mora was held in an OIJ cell in the First Circuit Court building in San José before appearing before a judge on Wednesday afternoon. The Prosecutor’s Office recommended six months preventative detention as the investigation develops.
Authorities also arrested Maureen Patricia Cordero Solano, 32, who allegedly was responsible for recruiting donors and assuring them the procedure was safe and would not affect their health, according to the daily La Nación. Attorney General Jorge Chavarría told crhoy.com that a woman died on her way back to Costa Rica after traveling to Israel to have her kidney removed and sold.
According to the Costa Rican Social Security System, the country’s public health care system, it is illegal to pay someone for his or her organs in Costa Rica. The Prosecutor’s Office is also investigating whether or not the operating team was aware of their involvement in the illegal trade, added the newspaper.
Leaning back in his chair wearing a white lab coat, Dr. Mora appears with Scott Oliver, a local tourism marketer, in a YouTube video posted on Oliver’s website WeLoveCostaRica.com. Oliver, originally from Scotland, notes in the video that his company is committed to helping its customers find “safe and affordable” surgery options, highlighting the relatively low costs of kidney transplants and immunosuppressant drugs in Costa Rica compared to the United States, where the video claims similar procedures could cost upwards of $250,000.
“I’ve done videos for lots of people, what’s wrong with that?” Oliver told The Tico Times, adding that he was unaware of any wrongdoing by Mora.
Mora specifically mentioned the private hospital Clínica Católica as his recommended facility in the video, citing its low costs, equipment and an on-site hotel. He is not listed under the clinic website’s nephrology directory. According to a representative from Clíncia Católica, 95 percent of doctors there rent space from the facility and are not staff.
OIJ said that operations under investigation also took place at the Clíncia Bíblica, another private clinic in San José.
Clínica Católica did not comment on the matter, and Clínica Bíblica told The Tico Times in a statement that they are willing to fully cooperate with authorities in the investigation.
In the YouTube video, Mora claims to have performed more than 550 kidney transplants during his 35 years of experience. Mora says in the video that a patient could expect to spend three to four weeks total in Costa Rica between the transplant operation and recovery if they have their own donor.
According to a story in Mexico’s El Universal that contributed to the arrest of Dr. Mora, 48,000 people visited Costa Rica for medical tourism in 2012, spending $7,000 each on average during their stay.