A Nigerian senator, Ike Ekweremadu, his wife, Beatrice, and their doctor have been found guilty of an organ harvesting plot.
A jury found that Senator Ike Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Beatrice, 56 and medical “middleman” Dr Obinna Obeta, 50, were guilty of a conspiracy to bring a young man to Britain to give his kidney to the politician’s sick daughter.
The Ekweremadus’ 25-year-old daughter, Sonia, who has a serious kidney condition, wept in court as she was cleared by the jury, which deliberated for nearly 14 hours.
It is the first time defendants have been convicted under the Modern Slavery Act of an organ harvesting conspiracy.
The victim, a 21-year-old street trader from Lagos, was brought to the UK last year to provide a kidney to Sonia for an £80,000 private transplant at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
The prosecution claimed the donor was offered up to £7,000 and the promise of a better life in the UK. It was alleged the defendants tried to convince medics at the Royal Free by pretending he was Sonia’s cousin when, in fact, they were not related.
When he was rejected as unsuitable, the Ekweremadus transferred their interest to Turkey and set about finding another donor.
The Ekweremadus, who have an address in Willesden Green, north-west London, and Dr Obeta, from Southwark, south London, denied the charges against them.
The Ekweremadus set about finding a donor, enlisting the help of Dr Obeta, a former medical school classmate of Ike’s brother Isaac “Diwe” Ekweremadu, who remains in Nigeria.
In opening addresses at the Old Bailey in February, lawyers for the defendants insisted they believed the donor, who cannot be identified, was acting “altruistically”.
Martin Hicks KC, for Ike Ekweremadu, told jurors: “Be alive please to the possible cultural differences between this country and that of Nigeria, particularly to altruistic donation.”
He said: “We say the issue in this case is simple – did there exist an agreement to exploit (the donor) in the way the prosecution allege and if so who was a party to it?”
The politician’s case is that Dr Obeta had spoken to Ekweremadu’s medically trained brother Diwe in the autumn of 2021 and had offered to help find Sonia a prospective donor.
Mr Hicks said Ekweremadu’s only communication was through his brother Diwe and he relied on the “medical knowledge and standing” of the doctors involved.
He denied lying in support of the donor’s visa application to travel to the UK and was not privy to an online application which claimed the young man was related to Sonia. Mr Hicks said Ekweremadu did not attend any visits to the Royal Free Hospital in February and March last year, which concluded that the donor was unsuitable.
The court heard that the 21-year-old donor was recruited at a Lagos street market. At the time, he was making just a few pounds a day selling telephone parts from a cart.
Mr Davies said that the young man’s account was that he believed he was being taken to London to work and the tests were for a visa.
The prosecutor said Dr Obeta was controlling the process in Nigeria and regularly updating Diwe Ekweremadu, who was, in turn, updating his family.