Police in Costa Rica have dismantled an organ trafficking ring that allegedly sold kidneys to patients in Israel and had connections in Eastern Europe -- two places that are at the nexus of the global illegal organ market.
According to the authorities, donors were recruited in Costa Rica, and their kidneys removed either in the country, in Eastern Europe, where the ring is believed to have bases of operations, or in Israel, where the buyers were located.
Police arrested Francisco Jose Mora, a leading doctor at San Jose's Calderon Guardia Hospital, who stands accused of coordinating the operation, reported Tico Times. They also arrested a police officer and former patient of Mora, who allegedly helped the doctor recruit potential donors.
Police have identified three people who are believed to have been paid around $10,000 for their kidneys, and one woman who died on the flight back from Israel after allegedly selling her kidney through the organization.
InSight Crime Analysis
Costa Rica is a leading destination for medical tourism, which some experts say has contributed to the country earning the reputation as a global hub for "transplant tourism" -- which in turn is a semantic cover for organ trafficking.
Most organ trafficking relies on recruiting the poor and desperate and offering them fees that seem astronomical to the donors but are dwarfed by the fees recipients pay to the traffickers. However, it is not uncommon for people to be forced into donating organs or for organs to be forcibly removed from victims of human trafficking.
Eastern Europe and Israel are at the heart of this illicit trade, according to media investigations. Israel is one of the main destinations for trafficked organs, as it is a wealthy country but the health care system has chronic organ shortages, as many people are reluctant to register as donors for religious reasons.
Thanks to mass immigration from the former Soviet countries, it has strong connections to Eastern Europe, where many of the main organized crime networks involved in the trade are believed to be based.
According to World Health Organization estimates, around 10,000 illegal organ transplant operations take place every year, with kidneys accounting for an estimated 75 percent of cases.