Mainland police have busted a highly sophisticated network of organ-trafficking syndicates across 18 provinces and municipalities, making 137 arrests and rescuing 127 would-be organ donors.
The 137 suspects come from 28 trafficking gangs across the country. Police say the gangs stayed in close contact over the supply of and demand for organs; 18 of those detained are doctors who conducted illegal transplants, according to the Ministry of Public Security, which co-ordinated the raids late last month.
Police also discovered a high degree of specialisation among the gangs, state television reported.
Authorities said the case was first exposed by police in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, in April, sparking an investigation that exposed the extent and sophistication of the gangs' illegal enterprise.
The suspects are believed to have divided their efforts into recruiting prospective organ donors from the internet, guarding donors to prevent them from escaping, sending them to hospitals for check-ups and surgery, as well as locating and making deals with patients.
'The suspects usually used fake identities to recruit healthy candidates from the internet and put them under secret confinement separated from the outside world,' the ministry said in a statement on it website. 'The suspects sought out patients in need of organ transplants from hospitals or the internet and matched them with healthy donors.'
Police said organs from healthy candidates were illegally transplanted to patients, while most of the money paid by the patients went to the organ traffickers. Although it did not reveal the exact amounts pocketed by middlemen, state television said the lucrative endeavour underscored the severe shortage of legally donated organs on the mainland. Each year, 1.5 million Chinese patients require organ transplants, official figures show, but only 10,000 of them can receive transplants.
Despite the shortage, the central government only made organ trafficking a criminal offence last year. The worst offenders face at least five years' imprisonment and fines.
One donor told CCTV that he was taken blindfolded to a flat by organ traffickers after they deceived him on the internet that selling his kidney would earn him good money. He was confined to the flat for two months, sometimes beaten, before traffickers took him to Shanghai, Nanjing , and Xuzhou , Jiangsu province, for medical check-ups to match with potential recipients.
He finally sold his kidney to a patient in Xuzhou for just 6,000 yuan (HK$7,350) rather than the 100,000 yuan promised by the traffickers.
The man later joined the organ trafficking gangs to deceive more victims, telling would-be donors that selling kidneys would not affect their health and that they would recover from the operation within 10 days.
Mainland media reported in May that healthy donors who sold their kidneys to organ traffickers would be paid about 35,000 yuan, while patients who received the kidney transplants had to pay traffickers between 200,000 and 500,000 yuan.