U.S. Couple in Kidney Racket Claims Ignorance

N.Y. pair say they were unaware kidneys were stolen until police raided facility

GURGAON, India Jan. 30, 2008 — -- An American couple here cannot return home until they give Indian authorities information they have regarding an illegal kidney racket in which 600 people were forced into having their organs removed.

"They can be arrested for conspiracy but we don't want to because he is very ill," said Gurgaon Joint Police Commissioner Manjit Ahlawat about the husband and wife who traveled here for medical care from their New York home. "We simply want to know who introduced them to the doctor and how much did they pay?"

Until Joy and Susan Mathew of Hawthorne, N.Y., reveal that information, the authorities say they will continue to hold their passports.

The 53-year-old husband, Joy, needs a kidney transplant and has been undergoing dialysis treatment in New York for the past several months. Joy Mathew is on medical leave until March from his job as an accountant for the Probation Department of Westchester County just outside New York City, a neighbor told ABCNews.com.

His 52-year-old wife, Susan, is a registered nurse. They have two adult children, a son who is studying accounting and a daughter who is studying medicine.

Susan Mathew told ABCNews.com that three months ago they heard about "a good doctor in Delhi and we can get treatment" for her husband who suffers from a genetic kidney disorder and needs a second kidney transplant. The couple did not hesitate, she said.

"The organ list is too long," Mrs. Mathew said about the UNOS organ donor program in the United States. Because her husband has a rare blood type, the wait for a matching kidney could be as long as eight years, she said.

So the Indian-American couple, who moved to the United States in the early 1990s, made the long journey back to their homeland to try to save the husband from his debilitating illness, which requires dialysis several times a week.

They arrived in New Delhi on Jan. 21, beginning treatment with the doctor they barely knew.

"We were not knowing any problems," the wife said. "We got to the doctors, but we only met the doctor for two minutes."

What the American couple claims they did not know is that the doctor from which they sought treatment, Dr. Amit Kumar, was allegedly running an illegal kidney racket in which police say 600 kidneys were stolen or purchased from victims, then transplanted into the bodies of wealthy Indians or foreigners.

When asked if they are still waiting for a transplant, the wife of the New York couple said no.

"We're not waiting for a transplant," she said. "We don't need anything now. We want to go home."

Their doctor, Kumar, is not qualified to perform kidney transplants and is not licensed to do any surgeries, said Ahlamat.

Mumbai police have been chasing Kumar – also known as Dr. Santosh Raut – since 1993, when he allegedly ran an illegal kidney racket there, too. The doctor had previously been arrested in Delhi in 2000 for involvement in the illegal trade of organs.

On this most recent racket, police say Kumar worked with his brother, who is also wanted by authorities. A third doctor involved in the scam is under arrest and cooperating with authorities.

If the Mathews did not know about their doctor's past, they learned about his present very quickly: three days into their trip, while in a dialysis session, police raided the doctor's operation center.

"They asked us 'Why are you here?' We said, 'We are here for treatment,'" said Mrs. Mathew.

The couple would have been the beneficiaries of a scam in which unsuspecting victims – mostly poor laborers from a region five hours northeast of the capital – were promised a job, then taken to a private house and forced at gunpoint to sell their kidneys. The transplants occurred inside the house, which was equipped with a hidden state-of-the-art operating room. Those who sold their kidneys allegedly received about 50,000 rupees, or $1,300 – although wealthy clients paid almost 30 times that amount.

Some victims said they did not sell their organs but were "given some money so they wouldn't talk" after involuntarily undergoing an operation, Ahlawat said. These people received between $1,280 and $2,560, he said.

Five foreign tourists, including the two Americans, were found in what police described as a "luxury guest house" owned by the doctor on Saturday awaiting a kidney. There was a waiting list of some 40 foreigners from at least five countries, police said.

Many victims were told that they needed to undergo a blood-test screening for a potential job, only to wake up to find they had undergone surgery and had a kidney extracted.

"I was approached by a stranger for a job. When I accepted, I was taken to a room with gunmen," Mohammed Salim told India's local NDTV television channel. "They tested my blood, gave me an injection and I lost consciousness. When I woke up, I had pain in my lower abdomen and I was told that my kidney had been removed."

The empty lots on both sides of the house were strewn with used surgical masks, medical supplies and blood-stained plastic pipes.

The doctor accused of heading the group may have fled the country and as many as 50 medical officials may have been involved in the racket, according to police. A spokeswoman for Interpol told ABC News that the agency had not been asked by the Indian authorities to issue an international arrest warrant. A Canadian newspaper said that authorities were looking for the doctor in that country, where his wife lives and where he maintains a bank account.

Emily Friedman contributed to this report.