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Indonesian police crack down on traffickers who sent 122 people to sell their kidneys in Cambodia

Jul 26, 2023

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian police are investigating the illegal trade of human organs involving police and immigration officers who were accused of helping traffickers send 122 Indonesians to a hospital in Cambodia to sell their kidneys, police said Tuesday.

Indonesian authorities arrested 12 people, including a police officer and an immigration officer, on July 19, and police will continue to crack down on human smuggling syndicates conducting the illegal trade of human organs, said Hengki Haryadi, the Jakarta police director for general crimes.

He said all 122 victims, including factory workers, teachers and executives, had returned to Indonesia, and police were still searching a number of other victims whose testimony would be required by investigators.

“Most of the victims lost their jobs during the pandemic and they agreed to sell their organs because they needed money,” Haryadi said, adding that six of the victims are still under observation of doctors.

Nine of the suspects were former organ trade victims who were accused of luring people from across Indonesia through social media into having their kidneys removed in Cambodia, Haryadi said. A 10th suspect was accused of sending them to Preah Ket Mealea Hospital in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, for kidney transplant surgery.

He said the turnover of the illegal trade in human organs since 2019 by the group of suspects totaled about 24.4 billion rupiah ($1.6 million), while each victim was promised 135 million rupiah ($9,000) .

A low-ranking police officer in Bekasi, an immigration officer in Bali and 10 traffickers, three of whom were arrested in Cambodia, are part of a human trafficking ring that prey on vulnerable job seekers, Haryadi said.

The immigration officer from Bali was accused of abusing his power and falsifying documents for victims to travel overseas and received at least 3 million rupiah ($200) for each person he smuggled to Cambodia.

The suspects were charged with violating Indonesia’s human trafficking law and face a maximum 15 years in prison and a fine of up to 600 million rupiah ($39,000).

The police officer from Bekasi city police, identified only with the initial M., allegedly received 612 million rupiah ($40,000) for helping the traffickers move from place to place to avoid police investigation, and he is also accused of obstructing the investigation. Under the 2007 Human Trafficking Law, the two officers face penalties of up to five years in prison if found guilty.

Police paraded the 12 suspects at a news conference on July 20.

“There have been kidney trafficking transactions at the Cambodia’s state-run Preah Ket Mealea Hospital,” said Krishna Murti, the National Police head of international relations division. “We have been communicating and closely cooperating with the Cambodian police.”

The World Health Organization first prohibited payments for organs in 1987 and many countries subsequently codified the prohibition into their national laws. WHO estimated in 2008 that 5% of all transplants performed worldwide were illegal, and living donor kidneys is the most commonly reported form of organ trade.

Aside illegal trade in human organs, cybercrime, human trafficking and labor abuse still abounds in Southeast Asia. Most recently, authorities in the Philippines staged a major raid last month and rescued more than 2,700 workers from China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia and more than a dozen other countries who were allegedly swindled into working for fraudulent online gaming sites and other cybercrime groups.

The leaders of Association of Southeast Asia Nations in a summit at Indonesia’s Labuan Bajo in May agreed to increase cooperation in border management, investigation, law enforcement and prosecution, and repatriation of victims. They also urged that national prevention efforts be improved, including better public awareness campaigns and increased use of advanced technology.

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