Nigerian senator guilty in organ harvesting plot shopped for replacement when alarm raised
A high ranking Nigerian politician convicted of plotting to exploit a young street trader for his kidney shopped around for a replacement donor after a British hospital raised the alarm, a court heard on Thursday.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Beatrice, 56, and medical "middleman" Dr Obinna Obeta, 50, were found guilty at the Old Bailey of conspiring to exploit the Lagos market seller for his body part.
The Ekweremadus' daughter Sonia, 25, wept and hugged her father as she was cleared of the same charge on Thursday.
The case is the first time defendants have been convicted under the 2015 Modern Slavery Act of an organ harvesting conspiracy.
Ekweremadu promised the victim up to £7,000 and a better life if he travelled to the UK to donate his kidney to his daughter in an £80,000 private transplant at the Royal Free Hospital.
As part of the plot, “elaborate” steps were taken to create the false impression that Sonia and her proposed donor, whose age was given as 21 on his passport, were cousins.
Hugh Davies KC, prosecuting, told the Old Bailey jury that Ike and his wife were powerful figures in Nigerian society, but that their status could not guarantee the good health of their family.
Sonia, who was studying for a masters degree at Newcastle University when she became ill, had a “significant and deteriorating” kidney condition which could be managed through dialysis, but was curable through a transplant.
The Ekweremadus set about finding a donor, enlisting the help of Obeta, a former medical school classmate of Ike’s brother Isaac, who remains in Nigeria.
An intended victim was eventually identified who at the time was making just a few pounds a day selling telephone parts from a cart.
Under the agreement, the young man was to be paid a fee plus the promise of work and the chance to be in the UK.
But Mr Davies told jurors: “Relative to the wider medical costs of the process – measured in tens of thousands of pounds – which would have been done privately, his reward was to be a small fraction of the whole. To him – a street trader from Lagos – these sums and rewards were significant.”
Once the young man was found to be a suitable match, he was transported to London in February 2022.
Ike Ekweremadu and his wife paid a health tourism company in the UK to facilitate the medical arrangements
However, during their first appointment a consultant at the Royal Free came to suspect he was in fact unaware he had agreed to donate a kidney.
The consultant refused to proceed further and raised safety concerns about the donor, who was noted as being “visibly relieved” on being told the transplant would not go ahead.
The intended victim returned to the Ekweremadus’ address in Cricklewood, where an earlier court hearing heard that “he was treated like a slave by the defendants, sleeping on the sofa, his every movement controlled”.
At one stage he managed to escape and lived rough on the streets, before eventually summoning up the courage to walk into Staines police station in May last year, when he raised the alarm .
He was described as being in a distressed state, telling officers: “I don’t know anywhere, I don’t know where I am. I was sleeping three days outside around, for someone to help me, save my life.”
At which point the family began to review others donors for a potential transplant in Turkey, the court heard.
Giving evidence at the Old Bailey, Ike Ekweremadu tried to claim that he was the “victim” and that he had been “scammed” by the medics involved.
Sonia has not had a kidney transplant and remains on dialysis.
Ike Ekweremadu was appointed Visiting Professor of Corporate and International Linkages at the University of Lincoln in June 2022, describing the position as “a call to serve humanity”.
Before his arrest Ekweremadu was one of Nigeria’s most senior and well-connected politicians, serving as Deputy President of the country’s Senate from 2007 to 2019, and regarded as old ally of former president Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
He is now under investigation in Nigeria for the misappropriation of public funds and money laundering.
The trafficking of human beings for organ removal is a major problem in north and west Africa, where impoverished and displaced people are at greater risk of exploitation, according to Interpol.
The World Health Organization estimates that between five and ten percent of global transplants are performed using illegally sourced organs.
Leading investigating officer, Detective Inspector Esther Richardson, from Scotland Yard’s Modern Slavery and Child Exploitation team, said: “Modern slavery is all around us. We need the public’s help in identifying potential victims of trafficking and exploitation to bring offenders to justice and protect the vulnerable.”