Nigeria’s former deputy Senate president faces up to life in jail in Britain on Friday when he is sentenced for plotting to harvest a man’s kidney for his sick daughter.
In the first United Kingdom case of its kind, Ike Ekweremadu, 60, was found guilty in March at London’s Old Bailey criminal court of conspiring to traffic the young street trader into Britain for his body part.Also convicted were Ekweremadu’s wife Beatrice, 56, and Obinna Obeta, 50, a doctor who acted as a middleman in the plot. They too will be sentenced Friday.The Ekweremadus’ daughter Sonia, 25, shed tears as she was cleared of the same charge after jurors deliberated for nearly 14 hours.
In Britain, it is legal to donate a kidney, but not for financial or material reward.
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.
Detective Inspector Esther Richardson, from the Metropolitan Police’s Modern Slavery and Exploitation Command, called it a “landmark conviction” and thanked the victim for his “bravery” in coming forward.
During the weeks-long trial, the 21-year-old victim from Lagos, who cannot be named for legal reasons, testified that the Ekweremadus had flown 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 return for up to £7,000 ($8,800).
The man said he had been recruited by a doctor working for the politician, and had thought he was coming to the UK to work.
– ‘Utter disregard’ –
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 Ike Ekweremadu 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.
Leaders in Nigeria’s parliament this week appealed to the London court for clemency, arguing Ekweremadu was a first-time offender who had made valuable contributions to politics in West Africa.
He did not contest recent National Assembly elections as he was in custody before and during the trial.
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 it was a “horrific plot”, accusing the well-connected defendants of showing “utter disregard for the victim’s welfare, health and wellbeing”.
Around 20 people a day in Britain are diagnosed with kidney failure, necessitating prolonged dialysis treatment, and around 7,000 are waiting for a transplant from a suitable donor.
Informed consent is “a vital part of the organ donation programme” and thorough checks are made to ensure “no coercion”, Fiona Loud, policy director at the charity Kidney Care UK, told AFP.
Voluntary donors engage in “an act of great generosity”, she said.