THE Durban Commercial Crimes Court yesterday slapped Netcare KwaZulu-Natal with a R4 million fine for contravening the Human Tissue Act, related to illegal organ transplants.
A confiscation order to the tune of R3,8 million was also served after the court was advised that the company has derived benefits to this amount.
The institution was charged with performing illegal kidney transplants at its St Augustine’s Hospital in Durban between 2001 and 2003.
The Witness reported in September that Netcare’s chief executive, Dr Richard Friedland, and five surgeons were due to stand trial in connection with alleged illegal organ transplants from which the group earned more than R22 million.
National police spokesperson Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said the company has pleaded guilty to 102 counts with three main charges relating to illegal operations performed at St Augustine’s Hospital.
The charges include five counts of unlawfully transplanting human kidneys acquired from five minors; five counts of unlawfully receiving payments for the acquisition of human kidneys from minors; and 92 counts of receiving and paying money to other people or service providers.
Naidoo said the conviction of a hospital in respect of human tissue cases such as this one may be the first in the world.
“Law enforcement agencies around the world have already started to take these matters seriously.
“The SAPF has been to the United Nations and other conferences around the world to share knowledge and best practices to help our counterparts to deal with these types of crimes effectively.
“This project was a long, intricate, complex, but fruitful one,” said Naidoo in a statement. The investigation had been conducted by Warrant Officer K. G. Chetty and led by Captain Louis Helberg since 2003.”
The chairperson of Netcare’s board of directors, Jerry Vilakazi, pointed out yesterday that charges against Netcare Limited and Dr Friedland have been unconditionally withdrawn.
Vilakazi put the blame for the organ saga squarely on the shoulders of certain employees of Netcare’s KwaZulu-Natal division.
He said those employees must have been aware that some kidney donors were not related to kidney recipients and that some of the donors were minors at the time that their kidneys were removed.
Democratic Alliance spokesperson John Steenhuisen said the case indicates a lack of proper monitoring in the health system.
“We can’t have illegal donor operations as this will lead to potential organ trafficking.Trade in human tissue and transplants need to be properly regulated and this must be a lesson to transgressors that there’s a heavy price to pay,” said Steenhuisen.