Cambodian police say organ 'trafficking' was legal

Police do prompt about face in organ trafficking case after nine arrested in military hospital investigation

Police do prompt about face in organ trafficking case after nine arrested in military hospital investigation

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - In a turn-around, Cambodian police have dismissed their own investigation into alleged organ trafficking at a state-run military hospital as a "mistake," local media reported Tuesday.

On Saturday police arrested nine people - including the hospital's director and a Chinese doctor - who they accused of being involved in a racket where Cambodian donors sold their kidneys to foreign nationals for about $40,000, but received only a fraction of the price.

The people arrested were charged with trafficking organs and police said they had received a tip-off and been investigating for weeks - but Defense Minister Tea Banh immediately denied the military hospital was involved in anything illegal, with police seeming to follow suit Monday.

"[The kidney transplants are] legal because they [the organ donors] volunteer," Prum Santhor, anti-human trafficking police chief, told The Cambodia Daily.

"No one forces them to do it; there is nothing tricky going on and no cheating going on," he added.

Under Cambodian law, the consensual sale of kidneys for money is not illegal.

Seven of the nine originally arrested were questioned in court and have now been released. Two of the nine, the director and the deputy director, were never bought in for questioning, according to The Cambodia Daily.

Santhor said he believed the defense minister as well as the hospital director and his deputy, who had shown him documentation saying the operations were voluntary, resulting in the case being dropped.

"After we investigated, we found that the purpose is humanitarian and to develop technology to help the poor people," Santhor said.

In July, Cambodian police arrested a woman accused of brokering kidneys to patients in Thai hospitals - the first reported case of organ trafficking in Cambodia.

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