UK jury finds Nigerian politician guilty of organ harvesting plot

LONDON, United Kingdom - A London jury on Thursday found Nigeria's former deputy Senate president guilty of plotting to harvest a street trader's kidney for his sick daughter, in the first UK case of its kind.

Ike Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Beatrice, 56, and a doctor, Obinna Obeta, 50, were found guilty at the Central Criminal Court, the Old Bailey, of conspiring to exploit the young man from Lagos for his body part.

The Ekweremadus' daughter Sonia, 25, shed tears as she was cleared of the same charge after jurors deliberated for nearly 14 hours.

It was the first time organ harvesting conspiracy charges had been brought under the UK's 2015 Modern Slavery Act.

The maximum sentence under the legislation is life imprisonment. Sentencing was adjourned until May 5.

In Britain, it is legal to donate a kidney but not for a reward. 

During the weeks-long trial, the 21-year-old victim from Lagos, who cannot be named for legal reasons, testified that the Ekweremadus flew him to Britain to harvest his kidney.

The kidney was said to be intended for Sonia, who remains on dialysis with a renal condition, in a plot in which up to £7,000 ($8,430) would be paid for it. 

The former street trader alleged that he was recruited by a doctor working for the politician, and thought he was coming to the UK to work.

He only realised it was for a kidney transplant when he was taken to London's Royal Free Hospital last year, the court was told.

He fled and slept on the streets for three days after doctors there told him he would not be a suitable donor following preliminary tests.

He eventually walked into a police station last May and said he was "looking for someone to save my life", the court heard.

Lawyers for the four accused insisted he was acting "altruistically" and when Ike Ekweremadu gave evidence he told jurors that he feared he was being "scammed".

Ekweremadu has represented the Enugu West constituency in southeast Nigeria for the opposition Peoples Democratic Party since 2003.

He did not contest recent National Assembly elections as he was in custody before and during the trial.

- 'Horrific plot' -

The trial judge agreed with prosecutors that he could try to flee the UK. His wife and daughter had been out on conditional bail.

Chief Crown Prosecutor Joanne Jakymec said: "This was a horrific plot to exploit a vulnerable victim by trafficking him to the UK for the purpose of transplanting his kidney.

"The convicted defendants showed utter disregard for the victim’s welfare, health and wellbeing, 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."

Detective Inspector Esther Richardson, from the Metropolitan Police’s Modern Slavery and Exploitation Command, said: "This is a landmark conviction and we commend the victim for his bravery in speaking against these offenders.

"We could not have done this without the help of our colleagues in the CPS, Human Tissue Authority and other partners who have worked tirelessly to achieve this result.

"We do understand the challenges around modern slavery cases as no two investigations are the same.

"Specialist officers from the Met’s Modern Slavery and Exploitation team understand this and we will ensure victims are supported, signposted and safeguarded with the help of partners."