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Costa Rica prosecutors charge 5 members of alleged organ trafficking ring

More than two years after police made the first arrests in an international organ trafficking case, Costa Rica’s Prosecutor’s Office announced Monday that five people will go on trial for illegally selling kidneys to buyers in Israel.

The Prosecutor’s Office on Organized Crime charged four officials from Calderón Guardia Hospital and the Greek owner of a pizzeria located across the street from the hospital. The charges are human trafficking for the purpose of organ extraction.

The operations allegedly took place at the public Calderón Guardia Hospital and the private Clínica Biblica, both in San José. The four specialists and the pizzeria owner allegedly were involved in the transplant of at least 14 kidneys to foreign buyers, mostly Israelis, from 2009 to 2013, when the group’s alleged ringleader was arrested. According to a statement from the Prosecutor’s Office, that ringleader is surnamed Mora Palma, the former head of nephrology at Calderón Guardia, who located buyers abroad and people in Costa Rica willing to sell their organs.

Prosecutors say members of the ring used the pizzeria near the Calerdón Guardia Hospital to recruit their victims. “Donors” met with the pizzeria owner, who then took them to another nearby location where they would be put in touch with surgeons and exchange money, prosecutors said. Donors were offered upwards of $20,000 for a kidney. Law enforcement officials previously had stated that the organs were sold for upwards of $100,000.

The investigation into the case ended in 2014, and preliminary hearings for the trial started in July 2015. The First Circuit Criminal Court of San José agreed to hear the case and the prosecution’s evidence on Feb. 4.

Selling an organ is illegal in Costa Rica. Living organ donations are legal but only without monetary or other compensation or under duress. The traffic of persons for the purpose of organ harvesting is punishable in Costa Rica by up to 10 years in prison under Article 172 of the Penal Code.

A urologist surnamed Mauro Stamati allegedly oversaw the removal of kidneys at two private hospitals. Another urologist, surnamed Fonseca Guzmán, allegedly was involved in the extraction of kidneys in two private hospitals in San José along with a peripheral vascular doctor surnamed Monge Monge. The owner of the Akropolis pizzeria, whose last name is Karkasi, allegedly identified and solicited “economically vulnerable” people to sell their kidneys.

A trial date has not yet been announced.

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