Police in eastern Pakistan have smashed an illegal organ harvesting ring, arresting eight people for surgically removing kidneys from hundreds of patients for wealthy people needing a transplant, authorities said Monday.
The alleged gang leader, identified as “Dr Fawad,” is accused of conducting 328 operations on people to remove their kidney and selling them to clients for up to 10 million Pakistani rupees ($34,000) each, said Mohsin Naqvi, the chief minister of Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Fawad was allegedly assisted in the operations by an unnamed car mechanic who administered the anesthesia, Naqvi said.
The chief minister said the gang lured patients from hospitals and performed the operations privately in the region of Taxila, the city of Lahore and in Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“They were able to do this in Kashmir because there is no law regarding kidney transplant, so it was easier for them to carry out the operations there,” Naqvi said.
Three deaths have so far been confirmed, according to the chief minister, but authorities were still confirming the data.
“There must be more operations that must have been carried out, the number is the only ones we’ve confirmed,” he added.
Fawad had previously been arrested five times but was released on each occasion and was able to resume his operations, Naqvi said.
Some of the patients whose organs were harvested did not know their kidney was removed, he added.
Police spent almost two months investigating the case after a man came forward saying he was convinced by one of the alleged gang members to get medical treatment done privately.
Later, when he went to another doctor for further treatment, he was told he didn’t have a kidney, according to the chief minister.
Naqvi said he is working with the Inspector General of Police of Punjab to strengthen the country’s cyber laws so adverts for such illegal kidney transplants are banned online.
“Our entire focus is to track other gangs who are operating like this,” he said.
Pakistan made the commercial trade of human organs illegal in 2007 and a strengthened law in 2010 made the harvesting and trafficking of organs punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a 1 million rupee ($3,400) fine.
Before the legislation, the country was a center for the organ trade for foreigners and wealthy Pakistanis in search of a transplant, and the buying and selling of kidneys was a regular practice, with some impoverished Pakistanis selling their kidneys in order to survive.
But the practice has continued and local media have reported that illegal kidney transplants have made a comeback in recent years.