EU prosecutor adds charges in Kosovo organs case

A European Union prosecutor has filed more charges against seven Kosovars on trial over an illegal kidney trafficking scheme, while alleging that the key suspects consulted with top government officials on plans to perform the transplants.

The case is one of the most prominent organ trafficking scandals to hit the Balkans in recent years, and the amended indictment marks the first time that the prosecution alleges a link between the suspects in the transplant ring and high-ranking Kosovo officials.

The suspects, including a former Ministry of Health official, Ilir Rrecaj, are alleged to have profited some $1 million from the scheme between 2008 and 2009. The seven have denied any wrongdoing.

Prosecutor Jonathan Ratel says in the expanded indictment filed Friday and obtained by The Associated Press that the suspects extracted kidneys from poor donors, including Turks and Russians, who were lured by financial promises. The recipients included people from Israel, Canada and Germany, who paid up to $100,000 for a transplant.

"These plans, deliberations and preparations ... included repeated consultations and several meetings with senior officials in the Government of Kosovo," the indictment says.

The indictment names then-Minister of Health Alush Gashi and Shaip Muja, former health adviser to Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, as those who were consulted or met with, but neither figure is charged.

Muja previously testified in the trial as a witness, confirming he knew the defendants but denying any connection with the trafficking scheme. He is also mentioned in a report written by a European senator that alleges Kosovo's Thaci was in charge of a criminal ring that killed Serb captives and sold their organs on the international market.

Both Thaci and Muja have denied those allegations.

Organ transplants are prohibited in Kosovo, and suspected ringleader Lutfi Dervishi was initially denied a license to perform the surgeries. But, in May 2008, Rrecaj, the health ministry official, issued Dervishi and his medical facility a permit allowing such transplants, according to the indictment.

At least 48 kidney transplants allegedly took place immediately after the disputed permit was issued.

The expanded indictment adds grievous bodily harm, fraud, and falsification of documents on top of earlier charges that include human trafficking.

The EU maintains a 3,000-strong rule of law mission that helps Kosovo's authorities deal with delicate cases such as war crimes and organized crime.