Authorities in Costa Rica have arrested three doctors and a restaurant owner allegedly involved in an organ trafficking ring in the latest blow to an international network uncovered earlier this year.
Officers from the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) carried out the operation on October 10, arresting three physicians who worked at the Rafael Angel Calderon Guardia Hospital in the capital city San Jose, as well as the owner of a nearby pizzeria, which was apparently used to recruit donors, reported La Nacion.
According to newspaper report, the pizzeria owner, Dimosthenis Katsigiannis Karkasi, is Greek and the doctors are Costa Rican, although El Universal reported that the doctors are an Italian, a Colombian and a Costa Rican.
The ring specialized in kidney transplants and was allegedly involved in 20 illegal harvesting operations, in which donors received between $6,000 and $10,000 per kidney, which were likely sold for between $80,000 and $100,000 each, reported Tico Times.
The pizzeria was allegedly used to identify potential donors and the owner acted as a middleman in negotiations and money exchanges between them and the doctors.
According to the reports, the arrests were part of a wider investigation into an organ trafficking ring first uncovered in June, in which a prominent doctor, Francisco Jose Mora, was arrested as its alleged ringleader. The network is thought to have links to both Israel and Eastern Europe.
InSight Crime Analysis
While Costa Rica is one of the most prosperous countries in Latin America, this ring's existence demonstrates that the financial hardship that drives the illegal organ trade is still very much a problem in the country. Some experts have suggested the country's status as a medical tourism destination has fueled the practice.
Although the links to Israel and Eastern Europe have not featured prominently in reports of these recent arrests, they have previously been exposed as key locations in the global illegal organ trade. This ring was originally exposed after a Costa Rican woman died on a flight back from Israel, where her kidney had been removed. So while the doctors detained may have undertaken operations solely within Costa Rica, the activities of the group are apparently far more extensive.
Governments in Central America have sought to combat the trade by increasing penalties for the crime, but the profits on offer, combined with the ready supply of donors, make it difficult to stem.