A Nigerian senator and his wife plotted to bring a poor street trader to the UK to harvest his kidney for their daughter in exchange for up to £7,000 and the promise of a better life, a court has heard.
Ike and Beatrice Ekweremadu, their 25-year-old daughter Sonia and medical “middleman” Dr. Obinna Obeta allegedly conspired to exploit the 21-year-old man for his body part, the court heard.
It is claimed Sonia Ekweremadu was to have been the recipient of his kidney in a transplant operation at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London.
As part of the alleged plot, “elaborate” steps were taken to create the false impression that Sonia and her proposed donor were cousins, it is claimed. His status and influence had produced a significant degree of wealth since they had international connections, the court was told.
Opening their Old Bailey trial on Monday, Hugh Davies KC said Ekweremadu, 60, a senior senator in the Nigerian Parliament, and his 56-year-old wife were “significant figures” in Nigerian society.
“His status and influence had produced a significant degree of wealth. They had international connections,” the prosecutor said.
“There are, however, certain things that money and status cannot guarantee in any family and they include good health,” the prosecutor added.
Sonia had a “significant and deteriorating” kidney condition which could be managed through dialysis but cured with a transplant, the court heard.
Davies told jurors: “Most parents, whether powerful or not in society, will do whatever is necessary to alleviate suffering in their child.
“The Ekweremadus were no different: the evidence – from downloads from their mobile phones, and wider actions – demonstrates a close, open and loving family each with an understandable and direct interest in Sonia’s medical treatment.”
Davies told jurors the case was not about their motivation but what the defendants were prepared to do to cure Sonia’s kidney condition.
While it was lawful for someone to donate a kidney, it is criminal to reward someone for doing so, jurors heard. To him – a street trader from Lagos – these sums and rewards were significant, The Independent and Reuters reported.
The donor, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was allegedly recruited in Lagos, Nigeria. At the time he was making a few pounds a day selling telephone parts from a cart in public markets, the court heard.
Davies said other potential donors in Nigeria had been reviewed for suitability before he was identified.
And when the organ transplant did not go ahead in London, steps were taken to arrange a transplant operation in Turkey with a different donor, it was claimed.
When the street trader was found to be a suitable match, he was transported to London in February 2022, under the “direction and financial control” of the alleged plotters, Davies said.
As part of the deception, the young man was purported to be Sonia’s cousin, with the family connection used to get a temporary visa to travel to the UK, the court was told.
He was coached to give false answers to doctors at the Royal Free Hospital and Sonia was “singing from the same hymn sheet” to create a fake family history, Davies added.
The man appeared to have been offered a reward of up to 3.5 million naira (7,000 pounds or $8,439) along with a promise of work and the chance to be in Britain, the court heard.
Davies told jurors: “Relative to the wider medical costs of the process – measured in tens of thousands of pounds – which would have been done privately, his reward was to be a small fraction of the whole.
“To him – a street trader from Lagos – these sums and rewards were significant,” the prosecutor said.
Jurors were told the alleged donor did not understand until his first appointment with a consultant at the Royal Free Hospital that he was there for a kidney transplant.
He was said by the consultant to have “limited understanding” of what he was there for and was “visibly relieved” on being told the transplant would not go ahead, the court heard.
Davies noted: “More widely, the prosecution contends that (the donor) was subject to a high degree of control throughout and was dependent on what he was told for his understanding.”
The jury was told Sonia Ekweremadu has not had a kidney transplant and remains on dialysis.
The three Ekweremadus, from Willesden Green, north-west London, and Obeta, 50, from Southwark, denied conspiring to arrange or facilitate the travel of the young man with a view to exploitation between August 1, 2021 and May 5 2022.
“None of this would have been necessary if this was a straightforward, genuine, lawful, altruistic kidney donation,” Davies said. “It was not. The alleged conspirators knew it was not, what they agreed to was not. It was criminal,” he added.
Davies said according to the would-be donor’s account which the defence would, “doubtless dispute”, he did not grasp that he had been taken to London a year ago for a kidney transplant until his first screening appointment at the Royal Free Hospital.
The consultant who carried out the tests said the man had a limited understanding of why he was there and was visibly relieved when told the transplant would not proceed, according to Davies.
Davies said there was an “obvious risk that those providing organs for transplantation for reward are likely to come from the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society.”
The defendants have been charged under modern slavery legislation which makes it an offence to “arrange or facilitate the travel” of a person to the UK for exploitation.
This offence carries a higher potential sentence of life, compared to a maximum of three years for illegally making an organ donation.
He was from a remote village and did not know his exact age, so he “adopted” a date of birth which would make him around 22 now, jurors were told.
The court heard he was given medical tests in Nigeria to assess his suitability as a donor before being flown to the UK.