Police arrested nine people, including Chinese and Vietnamese nationals, on Saturday in connection with a kidney trafficking ring involving the state-run Preah Ket Mealea military hospital, officials said Sunday.
Among the nine are the hospital’s director, deputy director and a Chinese professor who was training Cambodian doctors, said Lieutenant Colonel Keo Thea, chief of the Phnom Penh anti-human trafficking police.
“The Chinese person is a doctor and he is a professor that was invited to the hospital,” said Mr. Thea, adding that the doctor was an expert in kidney transplants and operations. “He is not here forever; he is here when needed.”
Mr. Thea added that three Vietnamese patients were also included in the group detained by police.
“The [Vietnamese] are the ones who gave kidneys to relatives,” said Mr. Thea. “The remaining three are not involved in the case.” Mr. Thea said police are continuing to investigate and declined to discuss the case further.
Preah Ket Mealea is the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ general hospital and also admits paying civilian patients.
The National Military Police spokesman, Kheng Tito, said a complaint was filed against the military hospital to military police, who cooperated with municipal police to bring in the nine people for questioning.
Defense Minister Tea Banh visited the hospital Sunday morning and vehemently denied that it was part of a kidney trafficking ring.
“The story reported that it is kidney trafficking, but the operation was voluntary, [there was] no trafficking,” he said.
Mr. Banh said the arrested Chinese professor had been training Cambodian doctors to perform kidney transplants, and that he visited a patient Sunday.
“I went to visit the patient,” he said. “It [the operation] is good and successful; I saw it is good, too.”
Mr. Banh also said that Vietnamese patients regularly come to have operations at the hospital.
“They come to the hospital to get help from our doctors,” he said. “One is a patient and another one is the one who offers [the kidney]. The kidney transplant happens when it has the volunteer and the one who can accept it.”
But local news outlets told a different story Sunday.
The Deum Ampil news website reported that a group of anonymous doctors said a trafficking ring has existed at the hospital for nearly two years.
“The price of a kidney costs from $35,000 to $40,000 and most of the kidney transplants are for Chinese and the sellers are Cambodian nationals,” Deum Ampil quoted one doctor as saying.
However, Tuot Nara, another doctor at the hospital, demurred.
“Kidneys cannot be sold; no one can sell a kidney,” Mr. Nara said. “The kidneys are defective more than 40 minutes after an operation.”
However, in 2012 the World Health Organization estimated that kidneys make up some 75 percent of the black market in organs, which experts attribute to the rise of diseases of affluence such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
Sy Boun, 38, has been receiving dialysis treatment at the Preah Ket Mealea hospital for the past two years. Both of his kidneys are failing and he said Sunday that he is saving up money for a transplant.
“I heard a kidney costs $30,000 to $40,000,” he said. “I want to transplant my kidneys but I don’t have enough money.”
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