Charges on South Africa 'kidney trafficking syndicate'

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Five doctors from South Africa's health group Netcare have been charged for allegedly participating in an international kidney trading syndicate.

Netcare's hospital in Durban allegedly conducted more than 100 operations in 2001-03 in which poor Brazilians and Romanians were paid to donate kidneys to wealthy Israelis.

Netcare is accused of making large profits from the operations.

It has denied any involvement in the alleged racket.

As well as the five doctors, charges were also issued against two transplant unit staff, Netcare group, Netcare's chief executive officer, and the Durban hospital where the operations are alleged to have taken place, South Africa's Mercury and Times newspapers reported.

An Israeli interpreter was also charged.

'Surprise and disappointment'

The charges against the various suspects include fraud, forgery, serious assault, and contravening South Africa's human tissues and prevention of organised crime acts.

The alleged scam was initially uncovered in 2003.

This charges follow a state investigation that enlisted the help of an Israeli "organ broker" who became a state witness and is expected to testify about his role in the alleged syndicate.

"[The kidneys] were initially sourced from Israeli citizens, but later Romanian and Brazilian citizens were recruited as their kidneys were obtainable at a much lower cost than those of the Israeli suppliers," said a copy of the charge sheet reported by the Times.

More doctors are expected to be charged this week, with the suspects due to appear in court in Durban in November.

Netcare has denied all wrongdoing.

"After several years of cooperating fully with the South African Service Police and providing the investigating officer with countless affidavits, it has come as a great surprise and disappointment that the prosecuting authority has seen it fit to bring charges," against the company, it said.

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