A senior Nigerian politician, his wife, and a doctor have been convicted of organ trafficking in the first verdict of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act.
Ike Ekweremadu, 60, a former deputy president of the Nigerian senate, his wife Beatrice, 56, and Dr Obinna Obeta, 51, were found guilty of facilitating the travel of a young man to Britain with a view to his exploitation after a six-week trial at the Old Bailey.
The jury found that they criminally conspired to bring the 21-year-old Lagos street trader to London to exploit him for his kidney.
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been offered an illegal reward to be a donor for Senator's daughter after kidney disease forced her to drop out of a master's degree in film at Newcastle University, the court heard. Sonia Ekweremadu was found not guilty.
In February 2022, the man was falsely presented to a private renal unit at Royal Free Hospital in London as Sonia's cousin in a failed attempt to persuade medics to carry out an 80,000 transplant. A medical secretary at the hospital acted as an Igbo translator between the man and doctors to try to convince them that he was an altruistic donor, the court heard.
The prosecutor Hugh Davies KC told the court that Ekweremadus and Obeta treated the man and other potential donors as disposable assets spare parts for reward.
Ekweremadu, a successful lawyer and founder of an anti-poverty charity, who helped draw up Nigeria's laws against organ trafficking, showed entitlement, dishonesty and hypocrisy told the jury.
He said that Ekweremadu, who owns several properties and has a staff of 80, agreed to reward someone for a kidney for his daughter in circumstances of poverty and with whom he distanced himself and made no inquiries, and with whom he wanted no direct contact, he said. It was not simply expedient in the clinical interests of his daughter, Sonia, it was criminal. It is not a defence to say that he acted out of love for his daughter. Her clinical needs can't come at the cost of the exploitation of someone in poverty. Ekweremadu, who denied the charge, told the court he was the victim of a scam. Obeta, who denied the charge, claimed that the man was not offered a reward for his kidney and was acting altruistically. Beatrice denied any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. Sonia did not give evidence.
WhatsApp messages showed that Obeta charged Ekweremadu 4.5 m naira about 8,000, made up of an agent fee and a donor fee Ekweremadu and Obeta admitted falsely claiming the man was Sonia's cousin in his visa application and documents presented to the hospital.
Davies said Ekweremadu ignored medical advice to find a donor for his daughter among genuine family members. He said that at no point in time, there was no intention for a family member close, medium or distant to do what could be paid for from a pool of donors. The judge, Justice Jeremy Johnson, will pass the sentence on May 5th.