Senator Ike Ekweremadu, his wife, Beatrice, and their doctor, Obinna Obeta will be sentenced on May 5 after they were convicted of organ trafficking, in the first verdict of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act in the United Kingdom.
The former deputy senate president, his wife, 56, and Dr. Obeta, 51, were found guilty of facilitating the travel of a young man to Britain with a view to his exploitation after a six-week trial at the Old Bailey.
They conspired to bring the 21-year-old Lagos street trader to London to exploit him for his kidney, the jury found.
The man had been offered a reward to become a donor for the senator’s daughter after kidney disease forced her to drop out of a master’s degree in film at Newcastle University, the court heard.
Back in February 2022, the young man was falsely presented to a private renal unit at Royal Free hospital in London as Sonia’s cousin in a failed attempt to persuade medics to carry out an £80,000 transplant.
For a fee, a medical secretary at the hospital acted as an Igbo translator between the man and the doctors to help try to convince them he was an altruistic donor, the court heard.
The prosecutor, Hugh Davies KC told the court the Ekweremadus and Obeta had treated the man and other potential donors as “disposable assets – spare parts for reward”. He said they entered an “emotionally cold commercial transaction” with the man.
The behaviour of Ekweremadu, a successful lawyer and founder of an anti-poverty charity who helped draw up Nigeria’s laws against organ trafficking, showed “entitlement, dishonesty and hypocrisy”, Davies told the jury.
He said Ekweremadu, who owns several properties and had a staff of 80, “agreed to reward someone for a kidney for his daughter – somebody in circumstances of poverty and from whom he distanced himself and made no inquiries, and with whom, for his own political protection, he wanted no direct contact”.
“What he agreed to do was not simply expedient in the clinical interests of his daughter, Sonia, it was exploitation, it was criminal. It is no defence to say he acted out of love for his daughter. Her clinical needs cannot come at the expense of the exploitation of somebody in poverty.”
Ekweremadu, who denied the charge, told the court he was the victim of a scam. Obeta, who also denied the charge, claimed the man was not offered a reward for his kidney and was acting altruistically.
Beatrice denied any knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. Sonia did not give evidence.
WhatsApp messages showed to the court revealed Obeta charged Ekweremadu about £8,000 made up of an “agent fee” and a “donor fee”.
Ekweremadu and Obeta admitted falsely claiming the man was Sonia’s cousin in his visa application and in documents presented to the hospital.
Davies said Ekweremadu ignored medical advice to find a donor for his daughter among genuine family members. He said:
“At no point in time was there ever any intention for a family member close, medium or distant to do what could be paid for from a pool of donors.”
The verdict is the first of its kind under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 of the UK.
The presiding judge, Jeremy Johnson, has fixed May 5 to issue sentencing on the convicts.
Modern Slavery Act 2015
Chapter 30 of the MSA 2015 criminalises a range of offences.
In Section 1, slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour are criminalised while Section 2 focuses specifically on human trafficking.
Section 2 states that “a person commits an offence if the person arranges or facilitates the travel of another person (“V”) with a view to V being exploited”.
According to the same section, it is irrelevant whether the victim is an adult or a child and also inconsequential whether consent was given or not.
Exploitation, as further explained in the third section, includes sexual exploitation and the removal of organs.
“A person commits an offence under this section if the person commits any offence with the intention of committing an offence under section 2 (including an offence committed by aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring an offence under that section),” it reads.
According to Section 5(1)of the MSA 2015, “a person guilty of an offence under Section 1 or 2 is liable (a)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for life; (b)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine or both”.
However, there is a likelihood that the Ekweremadus may not get the minimum 12 months option attached to summary convictions.
Summary convictions are typically given to defendants convicted of summary offences. Summary offences are less serious cases where the defendant is not usually entitled to a trial by jury. They are disposed of in magistrate courts.
Although the Ekweremadus were first arraigned at the Uxbridge magistrates court, the case was later moved to the central criminal court in London where the trial spanned six weeks.
10-YEAR SENTENCE PERHAPS
Section 5(2) provides that a person guilty of an offence under Section 4 (stated above) is liable “on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 10 years”.
This implies that if the Ekweremadus are found guilty of “intent to commit human trafficking” — seeing as the kidney transplant did not eventually happen — they will be handed a sentence not exceeding 10 years.