S African hospital group pleads guilty in organ scandal

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South Africa's largest private medical group has pleaded guilty to performing illegal kidney transplant operations at one of its hospitals.

It follows a seven-year investigation into transplants carried out at the facility in Durban.

The medical group Netcare admitted that children were recruited to donate their organs, and said the hospital had wrongly profited from the operations.

It agreed to pay fines of nearly 8m rand (£700,000, or $1.1m).

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Johannesburg says the charges related to more than 100 operations carried out at the hospital in Durban between 2001 and 2003.

Poor donors, often from Brazil, were flown in and given thousands of dollars to have a kidney removed.

These were then given to those in need, who were often wealthy Israelis.

Plea bargain

Several of those directly involved pleaded guilty at the time, but Netcare - which runs more than 50 hospitals in South Africa - had until now refused to accept responsibility.

Our correspondent says things began to change when prosecutors brought charges against Netcare's chief executive and the company made a plea bargain.

In return for those charges being dropped, Netcare accepted that some of its employees had known that the kidney donors and recipients had not been related.

It acknowledged that "payments must have been made to the donors for their kidneys, and that certain of the kidney donors were minors at the time that their kidneys were removed".

"Certain employees participated in these illegalities, and (the hospital) wrongly benefited from the proceeds," it said.

Netcare says all those involved in the transplant scandal have now been sacked.

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