Israel charges seven with international organ trafficking

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli prosecutors on Wednesday charged seven people with international organ trafficking and organising illegal transplants, the justice ministry said.

The Israeli suspects organised or performed transplants in Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Kosovo, using paid local donors for Israeli recipients, it said.

"The accused ran a real business in trafficking organs, on dozens of occasions over the course of years, exploiting the financial distress of the donors and the health crisis of the recipients for economic gain," it said.

Among the defendants were Zaki Shapira, head of transplants at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv until his retirement in 2003.

"With the aid of his reputation, Doctor Shapira helped to organise the entire process of finding potential recipients," the ministry said in a statement, adding that he also checked the documentation of donors, recipients and the medical facilities used.

Among those charged in Tel Aviv was Moshe Harel, who was named by an EU-led court in Kosovo in a 2013 trial which jailed five doctors for organ trafficking at a Pristina clinic.

The Kosovo charge sheet said Harel was the mastermind of a network for recruiting donors and finding recipients, mainly Israelis.

Israeli law allows transplant of organs from a deceased donor or a living relative "without direct or indirect monetary reward", according to the Israeli Medical Association website.

It says health ministry regulations prohibit "any form of organ trading as well as transplants of organs received in exchange for money".

Bereaved relatives in Israel are often reluctant to allow organs of loved one to be removed because of Jewish and Muslim religious prohibitions on tampering with bodies of the dead.