Police track kidney doctor to Brampton, Canada

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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Interpol handout.

The hunt for alleged kidney harvester, Dr. Amit Kumar, has led investigators to Brampton, a city in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) of Ontario, Canada.

Indian investigators allege that Kumar is the kingpin of a ring that removed kidneys of poor laborers in India for transplantation to the highest bidding patients, usually foreigners. After a request by Indian police via an Interpol "red notice", Canadian police located a house in Brampton owned by Kumar, who has been dubbed "Dr. Horror" by the Indian press.

The house is occupied by a woman, presumed to be his wife, and two young children. Kumar purchased the 5,600 sq ft (~510 ) home on February 2, 2007 for C$610,000. Reportedly, additional upgrades were performed at the home, including an in-ground pool, at a cost of C$100,000. The family drives an expensive SUV. The children, two boys aged 4 and 5, are said to be enrolled at private schools.

Dr. Kumar, a nephrologist, born Santosh Rameshwar Raut, was known to his neighbors. He told them that he was a cardiovascular surgeon in India, but that he wanted to buy a hotel in Canada and, after one last trip to India to tie up loose ends, permanently relocate to Canada.

"We are completely shocked," a neighbor told the Toronto Star. "We used to joke at parties that he must be loaded to get such a beautiful wife, but nothing prepared us for this." Another neighbor told the paper, "It's very unusual for someone to come here from India and buy a big house like this and a Lexus. Doctors in India just don't make that kind of money."

Meanwhile, investigators are no closer to Amit Kumar, than they were a few days ago. It is widely believed that he is trying to flee India for Canada via Nepal, a country for which he is alleged to have a passport.

Police in Mumbai, however, believe he is still in India. "He is very much in India," commissioner Rakesh Maria said on Tuesday. "We suspect he will never leave."

"He will stay in India — it won't be easy to conduct his illegal activities anywhere else," he said. "In a country like Canada, it would almost be impossible to find [kidney] donors in large numbers."

Cquote1.svg They think they can buy the kidney for peanuts. That's why the likes of [Amit Kumar] can prosper. Cquote2.svg

—Aruna Thurairajan

However, after a request by the Haryana state government, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will soon take lead in the investigation.

"We haven't yet received a final word to start investigations," CBI Director Vijay Shankar said. "We will begin working on the case as per legal process." Thus far, police in Gurgoan, Moradabad, Mumbai and Rajasthan have been investigating the case separately.

The case has called attention to medical tourism, the practice of traveling abroad for health care at more affordable rates. Kumar is alleged to have charged US$50,000 for a kidney transplant. The donors are said to have been paid the equivalent of US$1,200. Even so, the donors, according to widespread reports and testimonials, may not have realized what they were getting into when they went with a stranger for a well-paying job.

The Toronto Star interviewed a medical tourism travel agent, who operates openly. Aruna Thurairajan, who runs Overseas Medical Services in Calgary, Alberta, says that she frequently gets calls from patients in need of a kidney. Thurairajan refuses to give referrals for transplants because it "gives medical tourism a bad rap."

"Money is a big factor for people to decide where to go. Often they want to bargain how much to pay the vendor [organ donor]. Some of them can be quite selfish and mean. They think they can buy the kidney for peanuts. That's why the likes of [Amit Kumar] can prosper. So the patient should also be blamed along with him, because the patient bargains down the price," said Thurairajan.

But the victims of this illegal trade are not exclusively the poor day laborers but sometimes the clients themselves, according to a report by Hindustan Times. The investigation cited a driver for a close associate of Amit Kumar and claims that at least three foreigners died on Dr. Kumar's operating table. He was able to name three Turkish nationals who all died in India between 2003 and 2005, officially from cardiac arrest. The driver, Harpal, says that the bodies were brought to a hospital in Ballabgarh, Faridabad, where the local authorities colluded with the doctors to list the cause of death as heart failure.


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