The 'Body Show' Battles: Rival Exhibitors Square Off in Court

Photo: China BodiesABC News
Workers at Gunther von Hagens' German workshop prepare plastinated bodies.

A Chinese medical technician who once claimed to ABC News he illegally acquired the bodies of executed prisoners to be dissected and injected with plastic by a Chinese company that prepares bodies for public display has now recanted his account in testimony for lawsuits filed in China and the United States involving two rival firms in the controversial "body business."

The technician, Deqiang Sun, testified his employer paid him to lie to ABC News about a competitor and now denies he delivered bodies of executed prisoners to that company.

Sun testified he decided to recant his statements to ABC News to "protect" himself from possible legal consequences and to protect "the reputation of China" from human rights critics. He added that, as a Buddhist, "I had to confess myself, and finally I tell the truth."

Since the late 1990s, a number of companies have been involved in the hugely profitable, although controversial, exhibitions of body shows around the world.

The competition has led to a bitter rivalry and a series of lawsuits involving a German exhibitor, Gunther von Hagens, known as "Dr. Death" because he invented the body preservation process, and a Chinese doctor, Dr. Sui Hongjin, who was trained by Von Hagens and then left to form his own body company.

Dr. Sui's company then provided bodies to von Hagens' main competitor, Premier Exhibitions, an American company, which runs exhibitions of plasticized bodies and body parts in New York City and elsewhere.

In an interview with ABC News in 2008, the technician, Deqiang Sun, who was working for von Hagens at the time, provided a detailed account of what he said was his work as a body collector, identifying Chinese police officials and medical professors who he said were involved in a black-market body business, providing the bodies of executed prisoners and others for money.

Sun also told ABC News he had delivered some bodies to Dr. Sui's company, including those of executed prisoners.

Sun left the employ of von Hagens last year. Von Hagens says he fired him, but Sun says he left voluntarily. Now Sun has become a key witness in two lawsuits against von Hagens filed by Dr. Sui. A Chinese court has already dismissed one case but a second suit is pending in Florida.

In testimony for the Florida lawsuit, Sun said he never delivered any bodies to Dr. Sui's company, only to von Hagens and none of them were executed prisoners.

Sun said he had lied to ABC News because "Gunther von Hagens told me [to do it]. I had no choice, you know. And also I thought it was no big deal if I told a lie to Americans, because it's only, you know, tricks played between the commercial competitions. No big deal." He also said von Hagens gave him a 10,000 Euro bonus for lying about his rival Dr. Sui.

Sui, who declined to be interviewed by ABC News, has steadfastly denied ever using the bodies of executed prisoners in his work.

In his Florida lawsuit, Dr. Sui claims all the bodies he provided to Premier Exhibitions came from "medical universities and the Chinese coroner's office, and all the individuals died of natural causes. None of the bodies used by the Sui Companies are of executed prisoners."

Von Hagens, who introduced Deqiang Sun to ABC News and was present for the 2008 interview, has strongly denied encouraging or paying his technician to lie.

Sun's former employer von Hagens told ABC News the medical technician may have changed his story out of "fear" of prosecution by Chinese authorities.

In his 2008 interview with ABC, the technician also described graphic pictures he said he had taken of the bloody remains of executed prisoners dumped in the snow outside a university.

In his testimony this year, Sun confirmed that he took the pictures von Hagens provided to ABC News and that they showed executed prisoners but said he never went back to the university to pick up any bodies.

At the time of his interview with ABC News, Sun insisted his name not be used nor his face shown, saying he feared he could be sent to prison for his black-market body collection activities.

He now says he insisted on confidentiality because he worried about his future career.

Von Hagens himself has told ABC News that bodies of executed prisoners were in the past delivered to his operation in Dalian, China. He claims the bodies were cremated once he became aware they were those of prisoners, and that all of the bodies in his exhibitions are voluntarily donated.

The ABC News report concluded there was "no hard evidence" that any bodies of executed prisoners were actually included in the Premier Exhibitions display.

After the ABC News report aired, and a subsequent New York Attorney General's investigation, Premier Exhibitions agreed to issue a public statement saying its bodies include those received from the Chinese Bureau of Police.

"The Chinese Bureau of Police may receive bodies from Chinese prisons. Premier cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons," the statement reads.

CLICK HERE to read the full statement on the Premier Exhibitions web site

Referring to body parts, organs and fetuses that are also on display, the statement says, "Premier relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that they do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons."

In addition to his claim that he lied to ABC News, Sun also testified he was ordered by von Hagens in 2005 to concoct phony petitions and letters of protest that were sent to officials in Florida concerning a Premier body exhibition that was scheduled to open there. The lawsuit claims these "forged" papers were "intended to stop [the exhibition] from opening."

Von Hagens declined to comment on these allegations.

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