NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian police said on Wednesday (June 8) they have arrested the suspected leader of an illegal organ donation racket run out of one of the country's top hospitals.
T Rajkumar Rao was arrested in the eastern city of Kolkata late 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 pretend the donors were relatives of transplant patients in order to undergo 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$14,000) to pay off a loan they took out to cover the cost of their son's medical treatment.
Five staff 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".
On Tuesday it said 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.
But a chronic shortage of organs available for transplant has fuelled a black market.
The Organ Receiving and Giving Awareness Network (ORGAN), 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 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 were sold to rich patients.