A senior wealthy Nigerian politician, his wife, and a medical “middleman” have been found guilty of an organ-trafficking plot, after they brought a 21-year-old man to the UK from Lagos.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Beatrice, 56, and Dr. Obinna Obeta, 50, exploited the man for his kidney in the first such case under modern slavery laws.
The Old Bailey heard the organ was for the couple’s daughter, Sonia, aged 25.
She was cleared of the same charge.
The victim, a street trader from Lagos, was brought to the UK last year to provide a kidney in an £80,000 private transplant at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
The prosecution said he was offered up to £7,000 and promised opportunities in the UK for help, and that he only realized what was going on when he met doctors at the hospital.
It was alleged the defendants had tried to convince medics at the Royal Free by pretending he was the cousin of Sonia, who has a debilitating illness and remains on weekly dialysis when they were not related.
While it is lawful to donate a kidney, it becomes criminal if there is a reward of money or another material advantage.
Royal Free consultant, Dr. Peter Dupont, concluded the donor was unsuitable after learning he had no counseling or advice about the risks of surgery and lacked funds for the lifelong care he would need.
The court heard the Ekweremadus then transferred their interest to Turkey and set about finding another donor.
An investigation was launched after the young man ran away from London and slept rough for days, before walking into a police station in Staines, Surrey, crying and in distress.
Relaying his fears, he told the police: “The doctor said I was too young but the man said if you do not do it here he would carry me back to Nigeria and do it there.”
Lagos street market
Jurors heard that Sonia was studying for a master’s degree at Newcastle University when she became ill in December 2019.
In 2021, her father enlisted the help of his medically-trained brother, Diwe Ekweremadu, to search for a donor, the court heard.
Diwe Ekweremadu, who remains in Nigeria, turned to a former classmate, Dr. Obeta, of Southwark, south London, who recently had a private kidney transplant at the Royal Free with a Nigerian donor.
Dr. Obeta then engaged with Dr. Chris Agbo, of Vintage Health Group, a medical tourism company, as well as an agent to arrange a visa for the donor, the court heard.
The victim, who knew the man who had donated his kidney to Dr. Obeta, was recruited from a Lagos street market where he made a few pounds a day selling phone accessories from a wheelbarrow.