International manhunt for alleged kidney harvester

Friday, February 1, 2008

Diagram showing the location of human kidneys.

While the involuntary harvesting of human kidneys may have been relegated to urban legend in the Western world, a raid in India has shown the practice is real and has triggered an international manhunt.

On January 24, police raided a clinic in Gurgaon, a satellite city of Delhi with two million inhabitants, and found that poor laborers were having kidneys removed, sometimes coerced at gunpoint. The kidneys were for transplantation to wealthy clients, both at home and abroad.

In 1995, the Parliament of India made it illegal to donate organs except to close relatives. However, not all states have ratified the bill.

Mohammed Salim is a day laborer who had a kidney removed at the clinic. "I was approached by a stranger for a job. When I accepted, I was taken to a room with gunmen," he told NDTV, a local television channel. "They tested my blood, gave me an injection and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I had pain in my lower abdomen and I was told that my kidney had been removed."

Mohinder Lal, the police commissioner in Gurgaon who is heading the investigation, has a suspect thought to be the ringleader. The man, whose true identity is not known, but most recently he went by Amit Kumar, has been called the main doctor in the ring that harvested kidneys. The Indian press has dubbed him "Dr. Horror."

Commissioner Lal says the scale of this ring is unprecedented. He says four doctors, five nurses, twenty paramedics, three private hospitals, ten pathology clinics and five diagnostic centers were involved. "We suspect around 400 or 500 kidney transplants were done by these doctors over the last nine years," he said.

When I woke up, I had pain in my lower abdomen and I was told that my kidney had been removed.

—Mohammed Salim

As for Amit Kumar, Lal told CanWest News Service, "we know that earlier he was staying in Canada [but] right now, we are not sure if he is in Canada." Lal further said: "We are trying to get more information through Interpol today."

The Times of India quoted an investigator with the Moradabad police, Manjul Saini: "We are certain his family is based in Canada and he visited them a fortnight ago."

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) says it has limited information on the investigation. "We can, however, say that Interpol-Ottawa has been in communication with Interpol-New Delhi about this case," said Sergeant Sylvie Tremblay.

Two British citizens, who are alleged to have travelled to India to obtain kidney transplants, have had their passports confiscated by police. Their identities have not been announced and the British High Commissioner says it has not been informed.

Speaking to The Guardian, deputy commissioner of Gurgaon, Rakesh Arya said that "two British people have not been let out of the country."

"We are holding their passports. They are helping with our investigation... [There] are allegations that they are part [of the buying ring]," Arya continued. "We are cross checking certain things. They have been apprehended but not yet charged."

This problem comes from the economic disparity between the western hemisphere and the poor here.

—Sandeep Guleria, All India Institute of Medical Sciences

A report by the Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) has identified Amit Kumar as an alias of Santosh Rameshwar Raut, once a prominent nephrologist, citing police sources. IANS tracked an arrest record dating back to 1993 for the man who is said to be in his fifties.

The IANS estimates that Amit Kumar has amassed a fortune of billions of Indian rupees from the racket. He has also been disowned by his father, Rameshwar Raut, who said, "I had a misunderstanding with him and we have parted ways. Everyone in my village knows about my integrity. I am a freedom fighter and everybody knows this. He has made a mistake and put me to shame. One should never lie come what may. He was a big liar."

It is alleged that Amit Kumar's brothers, Jeewan and Ganesh, were instrumental in procuring "donors" and that the organization was very secretive, yet involved an extensive network of doctors at prestigious hospitals, travel agents, and taxicab drivers.

The January 24 raid of the clinic was done after Vidya Prakash Jatav, another laborer, filed a complaint with authorities.

"This problem comes from the economic disparity between the western hemisphere and the poor here. Western patients can simply buy organs and in this country we have no national health service," Sandeep Guleria, professor of medicine at Delhi's All India Institute of Medical Sciences told The Guardian. "Only 20% in the country can access any kind of medical care. We need a much bigger deterrence in terms of jail sentences."