By Sujoy Dhar
KOLKATA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Indian police have charged the suspected ringleader of an organ trafficking network accused of luring poor people to one of Delhi's top hospitals to have their kidneys removed and sold, a police official said on Wednesday.
T. Rajkumar Rao was arrested late on Tuesday after police traced him to a house on the outskirts of the eastern city of Kolkata where he was living with his wife and infant son.
"He was arrested last evening and (will be) taken to Delhi for further interrogation and prosecution by the police," a police official told Thomson Reuters Foundation on condition of anonymity.
The official said Rao was charged under various offences including removal of human organs without authority, commercial sale of organs, cheating and dishonesty, forgery and criminal conspiracy.
Police busted the illegal organ harvesting racket operating out of Delhi's Indraprastha Apollo Hospital on Thursday, arresting five people, including two assistants to a doctor.
During investigations over the last six days, Rao and other accomplices were identified as suspected members of a criminal gang operating in India and neighboring nations, police said.
The total number of arrests in the case now stands at 9.
The traffickers are accused of convincing poor people to sell their kidneys for an average of 300,000 rupees ($4,480) and then re-selling the organs on the black market at huge profit, police said.
Fake identification documents were used to fool hospital officials into believing the victims were relatives of recipients.
Indraprastha Apollo Hospital admitted it had unwittingly removed organs from victims and said it was co-operating with police in their investigation.
A chronic shortage of organs available for transplant fuels a booming black-market trade in body parts in India.
Commercial trade in organs is illegal in India and transplant donations must be approved by a special transplant committee at each hospital.
The failure of Apollo hospital to identify the forged documentation and the possible involvement of staff has been questioned by police, but the hospital said it had followed all legal requirements.
It said on Tuesday that it had set up an independent committee to investigate gaps in its existing screening procedure. Members include a former chief justice, a high court judge and a forensic expert.
(Reporting by Sujoy Dhar. Writing by Nita Bhalla. Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)