Police on Saturday busted an alleged organ-trafficking ring operating out of a military hospital in Phnom Penh, a ring they say included medical professionals working there and two generals from the Ministry of Defence.
It is the second group of arrests purportedly connected to the illegal organ trade in as many months.
According to a statement released by the Municipal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office, the group stands accused of “human trafficking with intent and being the accomplices of human trafficking with intent”.
Among those arrested on Saturday was the director of Preah Ket Mealea Hospital, 54-year-old Lieutenant General Ly Sovan, and the hospital’s deputy director, 58-year-old Major General Keo Davuth.
Others arrested at the hospital included 28-year-old Dr Choun Bunhak; Chinese national Dr Zeng Fanjun, 51; and Dr Nhu Ding Huu, 62, and Ma Reng Qiang, 79, who the statement referred to as Chinese-Vietnamese nationals.
Another “Chinese-Vietnamese national”, 30-year-old shoe factory worker Trang Hong Lue, was also arrested at Dalin Cafe in the capital’s Prampi Makara district.
The Chinese and Vietnamese embassies could not be reached yesterday.
The trafficking of organs is prohibited under the anti-trafficking law and is punishable by seven to 15 years in prison.
According to local media site Deum Ampil, three to five people had their kidneys removed last year at a Chinese-donated building at the hospital.
The report claimed that each kidney was sold for between $35,000 and $40,000 to Chinese nationals, while the kidney sellers were paid only $5,000.
The statement from the city’s anti-trafficking police said that a minor was asked to testify in the investigation.
Phnom Penh municipal police chief Chuon Sovan and Phnom Penh Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Meas Chan Piseth, who ordered the arrests, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Deputy police commissioner General Chhay Sinarith confirmed the eight arrests but referred all further questions to Major General Pol Pithey, head of the human trafficking department at the Ministry of Interior.
“His forces are working on this issue. I know [about it] but not in detail,” he said.
Pithey could not be reached for comment.
Keo Thea, bureau chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Anti-Human Trafficking and Juvenile Protection Office, said that seven people were being questioned for their alleged roles in the case.
Sovan, the hospital director, was “questioned along with others. We are continuing with the case”, Thea said before hanging up on a reporter.
At the hospital yesterday morning, a member of staff told the Post that he saw a police car arrive on Saturday and take some of the accused away.
He said that he had no idea about the organ trafficking until after the arrests.
Within the quiet hospital grounds, rumours of the arrests had families and friends of patients fearing for their loved ones’ safety.
“I am afraid that one of my husband’s kidneys was taken. If they take it, we will not know. He was anesthetised and I am outside,” said a 25-year-old woman who was waiting for her husband to come out of the operating theatre.
Saturday’s arrests mark the second case of alleged kidney trafficking in just over a month.
In what was hailed as a landmark case in the Kingdom, 40-year-old Yem Phalla and his 29-year-old stepdaughter Yem Asi Sas were arrested in July, accused of conning members of their own family out of their kidneys as part of a cross-border scam.
But some feared the influence wielded by some of those arrested on Saturday would save them from prosecution.
“Any time a senior military officer is involved in crime in Cambodia, it’s an open question on whether they will be held accountable,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, said.
“No one should be let off the hook on this one. Diplomats and UN officials in Phnom Penh need to immediately register their concerns with senior government officials and make this a test case for Cambodia’s willingness to stamp out organ trafficking for profits.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY