The Mercury

Durban singled out for kidney ops

CAPE AND JOBURG CENTRES OFF THE HOOK

- Tanya Farber

CAPE Town medical profession­als allegedly involved in a national kidney transplant scandal are set to get off scot free with no investigat­ion taking place.

Four Durban surgeons sat in the dock last week for their role in the scam in which Israeli patients were “given” kidneys in private South African hospitals by impoverish­ed nationals from Brazil and Romania who posed as their siblings.

It has, however, come to light that the investigat­ions have ceased in Cape Town despite allegation­s that doctors and other staff at Netcare’s City Park Hospital (Christian Barnard Memorial) had been involved in the programme.

Newspapers have reported that at first Israelis were paid about $20 000 for their kidneys but then at a later stage, they found that Romanians and Brazilians would accept as little as $6 000.

It was estimated that Netcare accumulate­d between R19 million and R21 million for the operations.

Three months ago, Health MEC Theuns Botha confirmed that the Commercial Crimes Unit was investigat­ing Cape Town doctors implicated in the scandal, while police spokesman Vish Naidoo confirmed that the investigat­ion was still under way.

This week, however, Brigadier Oliver Neil, speaking on behalf of the Commercial Crimes Unit, said: “Our Cape Town office is not in any way involved in any investigat­ion into the kidney transplant saga”.

When asked if the unit was previously involved in such investigat­ions, Neil declined to answer.

Meanwhile, National Prosecutin­g Authority national spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga said no cases had been brought forward by the SAPS in the Western Cape.

Costly

A source close to the case, who cannot be named, said the investigat­ion – which began eight years ago – has been very costly and labour-intensive for the State, and that Cape Town and Joburg profession­als would not be prosecuted.

The four implicated doctors, who allege that they too had been led to believe by Netcare that the operations had been above board, believed that the guilt-fine payout either implicitly or explicitly gave the hospital group immunity from further prosecutio­ns, leaving the surgeons to be the scapegoats.

One of the accused, Dr Mahadev Naidoo, said Durban had been singled out, but had been the last to come on board.

One of the co-accused, Professor John Robbs, said that the same people who organised the transplant­s had done so in all three cities.

Martina Nicholson, speaking on behalf of Netcare, said the hospital group had been “formally instructed in 2004 by the prosecutin­g authority not to proceed with its own investigat­ion as this might impair investigat­ions by the authoritie­s”, and that the relevant papers had then been confiscate­d.

Professor Del Kahn, who heads up UCT’s surgery department and who sits on the executive of the Southern African Transplant­ation Society, raised the alarm about the kidney transplant­s in Cape Town at the time, but met resistance from the hospital group.

He said: “The investigat­ion started in Durban, and the understand­ing was that the investigat­ion would move to Cape Town and Joburg once Durban was resolved.”

Meanwhile, the case of the four accused has been adjourned to December 5 with all four co-accused saying they are going to lodge an applicatio­n before the end of the year to have the charges against them quashed as the process had been “endless”.

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