A woman accused of persuading vulnerable people to sell their kidneys to patients in Thai hospitals was arrested in Phnom Penh on Tuesday night. Among her five alleged victims are two of her brothers and a cousin.
Yem Azisah, a 29-year-old woman who also goes by the name Sinuon, was arrested near her Chroy Changva district home by anti-human trafficking police acting on a complaint from one of her victims, whose motorbike had been held ransom by Ms. Sinuon as she sought her cut of the $13,000 price she had brokered for the man’s kidney.
Ms. Sinuon’s stepfather, Nhem Phalla, 40, was also arrested when he went to visit her in custody later Tuesday night. He is accused of having aided her in the acquisition of fake identities for the kidney donors, who were required by Thai doctors to be related to the person receiving their organ.
“An Islamic-Khmer coffee seller and her stepfather were detained by municipal anti-human trafficking police on Tuesday night and will be sent to the court to be charged with human trafficking and fraudulent requests for documents,” said Lieutenant Colonel Keo Thea, chief of the Phnom Penh anti-human trafficking police.
“According to the law, even if a person agrees to sell their kidney, extracting organs is wrong.”
Ms. Sinuon and Mr. Phalla will be sent to face charges at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today.
According to Mr. Thea, Ms. Sinuon had been operating the transplant-brokering racket for nearly a year and had preyed on desperate people who were close to her. He said the arrests were the culmination of a 10-day investigation following a complaint from Ms. Sinuon’s cousin and fifth victim, Mout Satirin, 23.
“Sinuon was a person who persuaded young people and she was the one who brokered the price between the patient and the seller,” Lt. Col. Thea said. “The suspect got some of the money from the victims for selling the kidneys.”
Ms. Sinuon would broker a price with a patient waiting for a kidney transplant, according to police, and then siphon off a share of the cash for herself. All of the kidney recipients were Cambodians transferred to Bangkok for the operation.
Lt. Col. Thea said Ms. Sinuon’s victims received between $10,000 and $13,000 for their kidneys. But her scheme unraveled on June 5, when Mr. Satirin, who says he was promised $5,000 for his organ, checked into Bangkok’s Bumrungrad International Hospital to have his kidney removed.
There, Mr. Satirin ran into the woman who would receive his organ.
“The patient told me that she was paying $13,000 to buy a kidney, but [Ms. Sinuon] told me she was only selling for $5,000,” Mr. Satirin said.
As part of the alleged racket, Ms. Sinuon would take possession of items belonging to her victims when they went to Bangkok to be operated on.
It is unclear whether the meeting at Bumrungrad Hospital caused the kidney recipient to renege on the deal to pay Ms. Sinuon. But when Mr. Satirin returned to Phnom Penh—without one of his kidneys—Ms. Sinuon refused to return his motorbike, which was kept as collateral.
“She was angry at me because all the money from selling my kidney had not been transferred into her account,” Mr. Satirin said, adding that he had received $7,000 cash from the woman who received his kidney. On June 11, Mr. Satirin complained to police that his motorbike was being held ransom.
Mr. Satirin said that Ms. Sinuon had convinced not only him, but also two of her own brothers and a neighbor, to sell their kidneys to Cambodians who would be transferred to Bangkok for kidney transplants.
He said that his cousin had been trying to lure him into the scheme since 2011, and that only recently did he seriously consider taking up the offer, after returning to Cambodia from a two-year stint as a construction worker in Malaysia.
Mr. Satirin, the second of five siblings in a fatherless family, said that Ms. Sinuon came to him again this year shortly after doctors found that his mother had gall stones and a fallopian cyst.
“[Ms. Sinuon] came to persuade me again to sell a kidney to get money to cure my mother,” he said. “She said if I do not sell it, how would I cure my mother?”
“I hesitated about selling my kidney but there was no other way to save my mother.”