Sammy Shem-Tov 248 88.
(photo credit: Abe Selig)
Two Jerusalemites have been arrested on suspicion of organ trafficking.
Police on Thursday lifted the gag-order on an ongoing investigation of Sammy Shem-Tov and Dimitry Orenstein, allegedly middlemen in deals that brought together patients in need of kidney transplants and others who agreed to sell their organs for profit.
Shem-Tov, 67, who had previously worked at Hadassah-University Hospital, Ein Kerem, together with Orenstein, published advertisements in newspapers, including Russian-language dailies, that called on people willing to donate their organs for a fee to contact them, police said.
Shem-Tov also approached patients in need of transplants in the hospital and told them he could find the organs they needed, investigators said.
Police stressed on Thursday that neither Hadassah Ein Kerem or any doctors or medical personnel were under suspicion in the case, although the investigation is continuing.
While a Hadassah Ein Kerem spokeswoman confirmed that the hospital had been used by the pair to check the suitability of potential donors, she would not verify the nature of Shem-Tov's work at the hospital or if he had even been employed there.
On Sunday, investigators waited for Shem-Tov and Orenstein at the hospital, where they were arrested. The two are believed to have arrived there to perform a check-up on two potential donors.
Similar check-ups for those who answered the ads were allegedly conducted in Israel, including at Hadassah Ein Kerem, but the operations to remove the organs were always performed abroad, police said on Thursday. Investigators added that some of the operations were conducted in South America and the Philippines, while they suspect that others were performed elsewhere.
Each operation cost around $200,000, and for their efforts as middlemen, Shem-Tov and Orenstein allegedly received tens of thousands of dollars. Donors who sold their kidneys received only a small part of this sum, and police said on Thursday that they were still investigating how many deals took place and how long the trafficking lasted.
According to the Organ Transplant Law, which went into effect last year, organ trafficking and selling is forbidden and is considered a criminal offense.
When Shem-Tov was arrested on Sunday, investigators said he had NIS 20,000 on his person, and the money was confiscated by police. It was returned to him later for lack of evidence linking the cash directly to his alleged activities. On Monday, the two suspects were brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, where their remand was extended. Orenstein was placed under house arrest on Wednesday.
Shem-Tov's remand was extended for an extra day on Thursday and he is scheduled to be released to house arrest on Friday.
Several other suspects were arrested, but were released earlier this week.
Speaking to reporters at the court house on Thursday, Supt. Gilad Behat, head of the Jerusalem Police's fraud division, said that 10 people seeking to sell their kidney had been questioned so far, although there may have been additional deals.