LONDON — A court in London has convicted three people in a “horrific” plot that tested Britain’s new modern slavery laws for the first time.
Nigerian Senator Ike Ekweremadu, 60, and his wife Beatrice, 56, were found guilty in an organ-harvesting scam. Another Nigerian, Dr Obinna Obeta, was also found guilty, and described at trial as the “medical middle man”.
The jury at the Old Bailey court heard how a 21-year-old man from a remote village in Nigeria was tricked into believing he was traveling to the UK for a job.
But instead, the plan was to harvest his kidney and transplant it into Sonia Ekweremadu, the 25-year-old daughter of the accused couple, who fell ill while studying in the northern city of Newcastle.
She was cleared of any wrongdoing in the case.
The couple arranged a visa for the victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, using a private medical company, while Dr Obeta organized his travel to Britain and stayed with him in south London.
Using a private medical company to arrange a medical visa, Dr Obeta arranged for the man’s passage to the UK and he stayed with him in Peckham, South London.
The victim earned a few pounds per day selling mobile phone accessories, and believed he was employed by the Ekweremadu family.
However, the court heard how they had in fact arranged an £80,000 (€90,000) private transplant at London’s Royal Free Hospital, with a health tourism company acting as a go-between.
After several medical appointments, the victim realized he was to donate his kidney, with doctors testifying it was clear he had no idea why he was at the hospital.
The victim later returned to his accommodation in south London, but found the mood had changed, with the family treating him as a “slave”, he testified.
After a few days he escaped from the house and slept on the streets.
In May, he walked into Staines Police Station and said: “I don’t know anywhere, I don’t know where I am. I was sleeping for three days outside around, for someone to help me, save my life.”
The man is still being protected by the police.
“This was a horrific plot to exploit a vulnerable victim by trafficking him to the UK for the purpose of transplanting his kidney,” said Joanne Jakymec, Chief Crown Prosecutor.
“The 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 a limited understanding of what was really going on here,” she continued.
Beatrice Ekweremadu was arrested at Heathrow Airport in June, while Dr Obeta was arrested at his home address.
They will be sentenced at a later date.
Sonia Ekweremadu, who was due to receive the kidney from the victim, remains on dialysis with a critical medical condition.
The six-week trial was the culmination of a fast-paced investigation by the British police.
“This conviction sends out a clear message across the world, the UK will not tolerate the international industry in illegal organ removal,” said Leading Investigating Officer, Detective Inspector Esther Richardson from the Metropolitan Police.
“We could not have achieved this conviction without the help of one man, the victim survivor. I commend him for his utmost bravery.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu and his wife Beatrice – who both reside in the Nigerian capital Abuja, were found guilty of conspiracy to arrange/facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation – namely organ harvesting – Section 2 Modern Slavery Act 2015.
“Modern slavery is all around us,” said Richardson. “We need the public’s help in identifying potential victims of trafficking and exploitation to bring offenders to justice and protect the vulnerable.” – Euronews