EU court to rule in Kosovo organ trafficking trial

An EU-led court in Kosovo is expected to deliver its verdict Monday in the trial of seven people accused of illegal organ harvesting and transplants at a Pristina clinic.

The panel of judges has heard often chilling testimony from over 80 witnesses -- both organ donors and recipients -- in more than 100 hearings since the trial began in 2011.

Police raided the Kosovo clinic in 2008 after a Turkish man collapsed at Pristina airport waiting for a flight back to Istanbul after having had a kidney removed.

The indictment says at least 30 illegal kidney removals and transplants were carried out at the Medicus clinic that year.

The donors were recruited from poor Eastern European and Central Asian countries who were promised about 15,000 euros ($19,540) for their organs, while recipients would pay up to 100,000 euros each.

The recipients were mainly Israelis.

Among the accused, who face up to 20 years imprisonment if convicted, are former Kosovo health secretary Ilir Rrecaj and Lutfi Dervishi, a prominent Pristina urologist.

The indictment names Israeli national Moshe Harel as the mastermind of a network for recruiting donors and finding recipients, while Turkish doctor Yusuf Sonmez is said to have performed organ removal surgery at the clinic.

Sonmez is also indicted in Turkey on similar charges.

But the two are not among those on trial in Pristina as they were not available to the court.

In his closing remarks earlier this month, special European prosecutor Jonathan Ratel said that "illegal transplants undoubtedly took place in the clinic," carried out by an alleged "international organ trafficking network."

"Donor victims ... were literally cast aside at the airport. They were discarded as used material after the operation," Ratel told AFP in a 2011 interview.

At the trial, Rrecaj admitted that illegal kidney transplants were carried out at a Pristina clinic, but denied covering them up.

"The transplants did happen, but there was no licence for" such surgery issued to the Medicus clinic, he said.

Another defendant, doctor Driton Jilta, pleaded guilty to charges of abusing his official position of authority and the unlawful exercise of medical activity.

The case is being tried by EULEX, the European rule of law mission in Kosovo, set up to help the local judiciary handle sensitive cases after the territory declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

The prosecutor Ratel had requested testimony from Dick Marty, the Council of Europe's rapporteur on alleged organ trafficking during the 1998-99 Kosovo war. But the request was rejected by the procedural board of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

Marty, in a 2011 report, said there were "credible, convergent indications" that the Medicus case was linked to war-time organ trafficking

Marty had alleged that senior commanders of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), including current prime minister Hashim Thaci, had been involved in organised crime and organ trafficking during and after the war.

The report set out claims that organs were taken from prisoners, many of them Serbs, held by the independence-seeking KLA rebels in Albania in the late 1990s.

Both Kosovo and Albania denied the accusations and rejected the report.

An international probe into Marty's allegations will end in 2014, Clint Williamson, US prosecutor leading the investigation said last week.