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Five doctors jailed for Kosovo organ trafficking

Urologist Lutfi Dervishi arrives at the Pristina district court on April 29, 2013
Urologist Lutfi Dervishi arrives at the Pristina district court on April 29, 2013. An EU-led court in Kosovo has sentenced Dervishi and four other doctors to up to eight years in prison for illegal organ harvesting and transplants.

An EU-led court in Kosovo on Monday jailed five doctors for organ trafficking at a Pristina clinic in the first such case in the breakaway territory which has already faced allegations of similar crimes during and after its 1998-99 war.

Former Kosovo health secretary Ilir Rrecaj -- who admitted during the trial that he knew that illegal kidney transplants were carried out at the Medicus clinic in Pristina in 2008, but denied covering them up -- was acquitted.

Prominent Pristina urologist Lutfi Dervishi got the stiffest term of eight years for "organised crime and human trafficking", the judge said in the verdict.

His son Arban Dervishi was sentenced to seven years and three months, while the other three defendants received terms of between one and three years.

Another defendant in the trial, which opened in 2011, was also acquitted.

Dervishi's lawyer Petrit Dushi said he would appeal the verdict, which he said was "not acceptable for us".

The indictment says at least 30 illegal kidney removals and transplants were carried out at the clinic in the Kosovo capital in 2008.

Police raided the clinic after a Turkish man collapsed at Pristina airport waiting for a flight back to Istanbul after having had a kidney removed.

The donors were recruited from poor eastern European and Central Asian countries who were promised about 15,000 euros ($20,000) for their organs, while recipients would pay up to 100,000 euros each.

The recipients were mainly Israelis.

Prosecutor Johnathan Ratel said he would not appeal, adding that the verdict "represents a significant piece of justice for victims of trafficking of humans".

The donors "were cast adrift after the removal of organs without proper medical care or any medical attention, like waste," Ratel told reporters after the verdict.

Ratel had requested testimony from Dick Marty, the Council of Europe's rapporteur on alleged organ trafficking during the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

But the request was rejected by the procedural board of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly.

US judge Dean Pineles, a member of the panel, said the court was "perplexed" by the decision.

In a 2011 report, Marty said there were "credible, convergent indications" that the Medicus case was linked to wartime organ trafficking.

Marty had alleged that senior commanders of the ethnic Albanian guerrilla Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), including current prime minister Hashim Thaci, had been involved in organised crime and organ trafficking during and after the war.

The report set out claims that organs were taken from prisoners, many of them Serbs, held by the independence-seeking KLA rebels in Albania in the late 1990s.

Both Kosovo and Albania denied the accusations and rejected the report.

Pineles said the case was "international in scope and notoriety", noting that people from a number of countries, including Canada, the United States, Germany and Russia, were involved either as donors or recipients.

The indictment names Israeli national Moshe Harel as the mastermind of a network for recruiting donors and finding recipients, while Turkish doctor Yusuf Sonmez performed organ removal surgery at the clinic.

Sonmez is also indicted in Turkey on similar charges.

But the two were not among those on trial in Pristina as they were not available to the court.

Somnez "was the lead surgeon in most, if not all, of the illegal kidney transplants... and a major participant in the trafficking and organised crime aspects of this case," Pineles said.

The case was tried by EULEX, the European rule of law mission in Kosovo, set up to help the local judiciary handle sensitive cases after the territory declared independence from Serbia in 2008.