Defendant admits illegal organ harvesting in Kosovo
A former top Kosovo health ministry official on trial for organ trafficking on Friday admitted that illegal kidney transplants were carried out at a Pristina clinic, but denied covering them up.
Ilir Rrecaj told an EU-led panel of judges that the "transplants happened, but there was no licence for (them)" at the Medicus clinic.
But Rrecaj -- one of seven co-accused in the trial -- rebuffed charges that he had provided the clinic with a legal cover to carry out an illicit trade in kidneys.
The prosecution has accused Rrecaj of "abusing his official position" by "falsifying official documents" and providing Medicus with a licence for kidney transplants.
According to the indictment, at least 30 illegal kidney removals and transplants were carried out at the Pristina clinic in 2008.
The donors were recruited from poor Eastern European and Central Asian countries who were promised about 15,000 euros ($19.500) for their organs, while recipients would pay up to 100,000 euros each.
Confronted with a letter Rrecaj wrote to the clinic in May 2008 saying the health ministry "approved in principle the possibility" of transplant from a living donor, the accused countered that "it was a memo, a correspondence, not approval, decision or a licence."
Rrecaj's testimony came after another defendant in the case, Driton Jilta, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to charges of abusing his official position or authority and the unlawful exercise of medical activity.
The trial, which opened in 2011, is set to draw to a close by the end of the month.
The Kosovo clinic was raided by police in 2008 after a Turkish man collapsed at Pristina airport waiting for a flight back to Istanbul after having had a kidney removed.
The indictment describes Israeli national Moshe Harel as the mastermind of a network for recruiting donors and finding recipients, while Turkish doctor Yusuf Sonmez is said to have performed organ removal surgeries at the clinic.
But the two are not among those being tried in Pristina as they did not make themselves available to the court.
The case is being tried by EULEX, the European rule of law mission in Kosovo, set up to help the local judiciary to handle sensitive cases after the territory declared independence from Serbia in 2008.