NEW DELHI • The suspected leader of an illegal organ donation racket, run out of one of India's top hospitals, has been arrested, police said yesterday.
T. Rajkumar Rao was arrested in the eastern city of Kolkata late on Tuesday on suspicion of leading a criminal gang that lured poor people to sell their kidneys, which were sold on for huge profits.
The commercial trade of organs is illegal in India and the gang forged documents to mislead others into believing the donors were relatives of transplant patients in order to pave the way for the operations at the Apollo hospital.
"He (Rao) was arrested from Kolkata," police investigator Nidhin Walson told AFP in New Delhi.
An officer in Kolkata said Rao was wanted in a number of such cases across several South Asian countries.
On Tuesday, police arrested three donors, including a couple who sold their kidneys for a combined 700,000 rupees (S$14,200) to pay off a loan that they took out to cover the cost of their son's medical treatment.
Five staff members at the Apollo hospital have also been arrested.
Apollo has denied any role in the scam, saying it has been a "victim of a well-orchestrated operation to cheat patients and the hospital".
It said on Tuesday that it had set up an independent inquiry committee to advise on safeguards.
Millions of Indians suffer from kidney disease, mostly because of high rates of diabetes. A chronic shortage of organs available for transplant has fuelled a black market.
The Organ Receiving and Giving Awareness Network, a pressure group, says more needs to be done to boost donation in India where just 3,000 organs are donated annually against a demand for more than 500,000.
In the Apollo case, police suspected that the hospital records, including the family trees of the recipients and victims, had been forged by syndicate members, The Times of India daily reported on Monday.
The verification process was apparently carried out without proper scrutiny, the paper added.
In 2008, Indian police arrested two doctors after they uncovered a kidney donation racket run from a hospital in Gurgaon, on the outskirts of the capital.
Police said the doctors and a large number of agents had transplanted more than 500 kidneys, mostly harvested from poor labourers across several states and then sold to rich patients.
Quoting sources, the daily said there were suspicions that the racket had links with buyers in Dubai and Singapore.