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, were convicted of conspiring to exploit 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 helping, and that he only realised 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 other material advantage.
Royal Free consultant, Dr Peter Dupont, concluded the donor was unsuitable after learning he had no counselling 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, in Surrey, crying and in distress.
Relaying his fears, he told 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 masters 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.
Sonia, who had declined to give evidence, wept in court as she was cleared by the jury and tearfully hugged her father as he was remanded into custody with the other guilty defendants ahead of sentencing on 5 May.
The prosecution has confirmed the maximum sentence in the organ harvesting case is one of life.
Following the convictions, Chief Crown Prosecutor Joanne Jakymec described the conspiracy as a “horrific plot”.
“The convicted defendants showed utter disregard for the victim’s welfare, health and well-being and used their considerable influence to a high degree of control throughout, with the victim having limited understanding of what was really going on here,” she added.
Det Insp Esther Richardson, of the Metropolitan Police, commended the victim for his bravery in speaking against the offenders.
She added police, the Crown Prosecution Service and Human Tissue Authority teams had “worked tirelessly” on the case, which is the first time that defendants have been convicted under the Modern Slavery Act of an organ-trafficking conspiracy.
The Ekweremadus, who have an address in Willesden Green, north-west London, and Dr Obeta had denied the charges against them.