PRISTINA, Kosovo - A prosecutor charged in court Tuesday that seven Kosovans on trial in Pristina were part of an elaborate international network that traded in the organs of people living in extreme poverty.
European Union prosecutor Jonathan Ratel told the crowded court that the men, including a former senior Health Ministry official, promised poor people from Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkey up to $20,000 for their organs.
Those who received the organs - including patients from Canada, Germany, Poland, and Israel - paid from $110,000 to $137,000 for them, Ratel said. The victims, however, were never paid.
The prosecutor, who serves in Kosovo as part of the EU's rule-of-law mission, alleged that what he called an organ-harvesting ring recruited about 20 foreign nationals with false promises of payments in 2008.
The seven men have pleaded not guilty to charges ranging from trafficking in persons to unlawful practices of medicine and abuse of power. None is in custody. Two other suspects, a Turkish and an Israeli national, remain at large.
Tuesday's session was adjourned until Jan. 6 to give the prosecution more time to provide additional documents.
The prosecution has alleged that Kosovo surgeon Lutfi Dervishi is the ringleader of the group. The Belgrade newspaper Blic reported that Dervishi was also linked to the Kosovo Liberation Army's alleged kidnapping and killing of Serb civilians for their organs.
According to the indictment, Dervishi attended a medical conference in Turkey in 2006 and asked for someone who could perform organ transplants. He was contacted by Dr. Yusuf Sonmez six months later. Dervishi and Sonmez then carried out operations in a private Pristina clinic. The clinic was managed by Dervishi's son, Arban, who was also indicted along with two doctors and two anesthesiologists.
The indictment said an Israeli citizen, Moshe Harel, was involved in identifying, recruiting, and transporting victims.
Sonmez and Harel are wanted by Interpol, and Sonmez is the subject of several criminal proceedings in other countries for removal of organs.
Police discovered the network in November 2008, when a Turkish man, Yilmaz Altun, appeared exhausted at Pristina airport while waiting to board a flight home. When questioned by police, he said he had donated his kidney to an Israeli recipient. Kosovo law forbids the removal and transplant of organs.
Altun identified Sonmez and Harel from photos, according to the indictment. On searching the doctors' clinic, police found an Israeli citizen in postoperative care and a human kidney. They seized medical and business records, computer files, and medications.