Wealthy Nigerian senator and wife guilty of plot to harvest organs as sick daughter cleared
A wealthy Nigerian senator and his wife have been found guilty of an organ harvesting plot.
A jury found that senator Ike Ekweremadu, his wife Beatrice and medical “middleman” Dr Obinna Obeta 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.
An investigation was launched after the young man ran away from London and slept rough for days before walking into a police station more than 20 miles away in Staines, Surrey, crying and in distress.
Jurors heard how Sonia was one of four siblings who had been privately educated in the UK.
She was studying for a master’s degree at Newcastle University when she became ill in December 2019.
In September 2021, her father, a prominent Nigerian politician, enlisted the help of his medically trained brother, Diwe Ekweremadu, to search for a donor, the court heard.
Diwe, who remains in Nigeria, turned to former classmate Dr Obeta, of Southwark, south London, who recently had a private kidney transplant at the Royal Free with a Nigerian donor.
In a text, Diwe told his brother: “I had an extensive discussion last night with my classmate who had his transplant last month. I will brief you.”
Dr Obeta then engaged with Dr Chris Agbo, of Vintage Health Group, a medical tourism company, as well as an agent to arrange a visa for the donor, the court heard.
As the travel plans went ahead, Sonia was encouraged to establish a relationship with the donor through text messages, jurors were told.
Jurors were shown a picture of Sonia smiling with him at a meal at a restaurant in London.
Royal Free consultant, Dr Peter Dupont, concluded the donor was not an appropriate candidate after learning he had no counselling or advice about the risks of surgery and he lacked funds for the lifelong care he would need.
Undeterred, a “corrupt interpreter” was enlisted for £1,500 to help at the donor’s second hospital meeting with a surgeon, the court was told.
Both medics agreed on their assessment and in March last year Dr Dupont gave his decision but no reasons, citing patient confidentiality.
Sonia Ekweremadu’s family immediately resumed their donor search, the court was told.
After walking into Staines police station, the original donor told police that he did not understand why he had been brought to the UK until he meet Dr Dupont.
Relaying his fears, he told police: “The doctor said I was too young but the man said if you do not do it here he would carry me back to Nigeria and do it there.
“I was sleeping three days outside around, looking for someone to help me, [to] save my life.”
The Ekweremadus, who have an address in Willesden Green, northwest London, and Dr Obeta, from Southwark, south London, denied the charges against them.
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”.
Ike Ekweremadu, who owns about 10 properties in Nigeria and Dubai, told jurors he had trusted the medical experts but suspected he was being “scammed”.
Beatrice Ekweremadu, who worked in the Nigerian auditor general’s office and has a PhD in accountancy, said her husband took care of the household finances and she was not involved in the donor search.
Sonia, who remains reliant on weekly dialysis, declined to give evidence but it was said on her behalf she knew nothing of a reward offered to donors. She tearfully hugged her father as he was sent down from the dock.
Following the guilty verdicts, Mr Justice Johnson remanded the defendants into custody to be sentenced on 5 May.
Joanne Jakymec, Chief Crown Prosecutor, 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 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.”
Leading investigating officer, detective inspector Esther Richardson, from the Met’s Modern Slavery and Child Exploitation team, said: “This conviction sends out a clear message across the world, the UK will not tolerate the international industry in illegal organ removal.
“We could not have achieved this conviction without the help of one man, the victim survivor. I commend him for his utmost bravery.”