Senator Ike Ekweremadu, the former Senate President, his wife, Beatrice, and an accomplice, Dr Obinna Obeta risk spending the rest of their lives in British jails.
The trio, Dr Ike Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Dr Beatrice, 56, and Obeta, 50, have been found guilty of an organ-trafficking plot, of bringing a 21-year-old man, described as a street trader to the UK from Lagos with the sole purpose of exploiting the man for his kidney. This is the first verdict of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act. The Old Bailey Court, during the hearing, heard that the organ was for Ekweremadu’s daughter, 25-year-old Sonia.
The prosecution has confirmed the maximum sentence in the organ harvesting case is one of life and the convicts are expected to be sentenced on May 5 by the judge, Mr Justice Jeremy Johnson.
The Ekweremadus, who has an address in Willesden Green, north-west London, and Obeta had denied the charges against them during the 6-week trial. Senator Ekweremadu, who denied the charge, told the court he was the victim of a scam. Obeta, who also denied the charge, claimed the man was not offered a reward for his kidney and was acting altruistically while Beatrice denied any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. Sonia was also charged but during the trial, she declined to give evidence claiming ill health.
It took the jury about 14 hours of deliberation to convict the three defendants but found Sonia innocent of the charges against her. She wept in court as her parents and their accomplice were found guilty and remanded in prison custody until their sentencing.
Joanne Jakymec, the Chief Crown Prosecutor, described the conspiracy as a “horrific plot”.
“The convicted defendants showed utter disregard for the victim’s welfare, health and well-being and used their considerable influence to a high degree of control throughout, with the victim having a limited understanding of what was going on here,” she added.
The prosecution said the “donor”, who was offered up to £7,000 and promised opportunities in the UK for helping, was tricked and bought into the UK last year to provide a kidney for Sonia in an expensive private transplant scheduled at the Royal Free Hospital in London. He only realised what was going on when he met doctors at the hospital. In the UK, it is unlawful to donate a kidney if there is a reward of money or other material advantages.
Prosecutor Hugh Davies, KC, told the court the Ekweremadus and Obeta had treated the man and other potential donors as “disposable assets – spare parts for reward”. He said they entered an “emotionally cold commercial transaction” with the man.
He said the behaviour of Ekweremadu showed “entitlement, dishonesty and hypocrisy.”
He said Ekweremadu, who owns several properties and had a staff of 80, “agreed to reward someone for a kidney for his daughter – somebody in circumstances of poverty and from whom he distanced himself and made no inquiries, and with whom, for his political protection, he wanted no direct contact”.
Davies added, “What he agreed to do was not simply expedient in the clinical interests of his daughter, Sonia, it was exploitation, it was criminal. It is no defence to say he acted out of love for his daughter. Her clinical needs cannot come at the expense of the exploitation of somebody in poverty.”
Dr Obinna Obeta was described as the “medical middleman” who tried to smoothen the deal in the UK hospital by trying to convince medics at the Royal Free that the young man was the cousin of Sonia.
Dr Obinna Obeta (courtesy London Met Police)
But Dr Peter Dupont, a Royal Free Hospital Consultant, concluded the donor was unsuitable after learning he had no counselling or advice about the risks of surgery and lacked funds for the lifelong care he would need.
It became a Police investigation after the young man ran away from London and slept rough for days before walking into a police station in Staines, Surrey, crying and in distress. He claimed to be too young and said the Ekweremadus would carry him back to Nigeria and do it there.
The Ekweremadus were believed to be looking towards Turkey at the time of their arrest in London.
Jurors heard that Sonia was studying for a Master’s degree at Newcastle University when she became ill in December 2019 and as the disease worsened with her undergoing weekly dialysis, her father 2021 asked Diwe, his medically-trained brother, to assist in the search for a kidney donor for Sonia.
Diwe, who is in Nigeria, asked his former classmate, Obeta, who is based in the UK, and had recently, had a private kidney transplant at the Royal Free with a Nigerian donor, to assist in the search.
It was believed that Obeta through Dr Chris Agbo, of Vintage Health Group, a medical tourism company, helped recruit the young man for the kidney donation. The victim is believed to know the man who had donated his kidney to Obeta.
After the trial, Detective Inspector Esther Richardson, of the Metropolitan Police, commended the victim for his bravery in speaking against the offenders.
She stated that the Met Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and Human Tissue Authority teams had “worked tirelessly” on the case, which is the first time that defendants have been convicted under the Modern Slavery Act of an organ-trafficking conspiracy.