Three jailed for organ harvesting plot in landmark case

May 5, 2023

A senior Nigerian politician, his wife, and a doctor have been jailed for an organ trafficking plot following a landmark prosecution, as Justice and Care support the survivor in his recovery.

Ike Ekweremadu, 60, a former deputy president of the Nigerian senate, was sentenced to nine years and eight months after conspiring to bring a young Nigerian man, 21, to the UK in a ‘horrific’ plan to remove his kidney.

Medical ‘middleman’ Dr Obinna Obeta, 51, was given 10 years in prison at the Old Bailey in London today, while Ekweremadu’s wife Beatrice, 56, was sentenced to four years and six months.

It marks the first time defendants have been convicted under the Modern Slavery Act of an organ harvesting conspiracy in the UK.

In a victim impact statement read out in court today, the survivor shared how he cannot return to Nigeria as he fears those loyal to the defendants could ‘arrest or kill me’. He has been forced to live a ‘solitary existence, separated from his family and friends’, the court heard.

The survivor said: ‘He [Obeta] did not tell me he brought me here for this reason, he did not tell me anything about this. I would have not agreed to any of this, my body is not for sale.’

Over the last year, one of our Victim Navigators has been helping the man to rebuild his life, and we are working closely with police to continue this support going forward.

The organ harvesting plan was formed after kidney disease led to the Ekweremadu’s daughter Sonia dropping out of a master’s degree at Newcastle University.

The survivor, who grew up in a remote Nigerian village in a home without electricity or running water, was earning a few pounds a day selling phone accessories from a wheelbarrow in Lagos when he was recruited by Obeta. He was told he could earn up to £7,000 for his family and promised work in the UK – something he had ‘always dreamed of but never thought would happen’.

The man was tricked into giving blood to determine whether he was a suitable match, before being flown to the UK.

The donor did not understand that he was there for the £80,000 private transplant until screening appointments with a consultant at Royal Free Hospital. Suspicious hospital staff refused to do the procedure after recognising his terror and limited understanding of the situation.

The victim said he was treated as a ‘slave’ when he returned to Obeta’s Southwark flat, but managed to escape. After three days of living on the street, the crying and distressed young man walked into Staines Police Station asking for help on May 5. ‘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’, he told officers.

Ekweremadu, Beatrice and Obeta were all found guilty of conspiring to arrange the travel of a man for the purpose of harvesting his organs under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 on March 23. Sonia Ekweremadu was found not guilty.

During sentencing today, the judge told the defendants that the victim would have faced invasive surgery, with a small but possible risk of death, and the rest of his life with one kidney and without funding for the required aftercare.

Julie Currie, Programme Coordinator at Justice and Care, has commented on the case, saying: ‘Thankfully in the UK cases of organ trafficking cases are very rare. It has been our privilege to support the survivor involved, who has been through an horrific experience, and help him to begin to rebuild his life.

‘We applaud the man’s bravery for giving evidence in the case and for the tireless work of the police involved in the investigation. We hope the trial sends a clear message out to other traffickers that they will be pursued.’ 

Detective Inspector Esther Richardson, from the Met’s Modern Slavery and Exploitation Command, said: ‘Organ Harvesting is a global issue, there are unscrupulous people who will use body parts of the vulnerable and poor. I am proud my team has been able to prove this landmark case.

‘This case, as sad as it is, has created legal history. What I would like you to do is put yourself in the shoes of our victim. He has been through a horrific ordeal, this is a young man who has been trafficked into the United Kingdom, into a culture he does not understand or know.

‘He is coming to terms with the fact he was viewed as a commodity, with no care or consideration for his wellbeing or welfare.

‘He has shown immense bravery by coming forward and having the confidence in my team and the criminal justice system, giving evidence in a country he is unfamiliar with.

‘This case has shown the commitment of my team, the Crown Prosecution Service and our partners, in bringing to justice those involved in human trafficking and the harvesting of organs.’

Thanks to steadfast policing from the Met and the support of our Navigator, the survivor is being supported to rebuild his life in the UK. He said ‘My plan now is to work and to get an education and to play football’. Read more here.