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Editor's blog Wednesday 10 November 2010: Netcare South Africa admits illegal kidney transplants 2001-3 in plea bargain

David Smith of The Guardianreports that Netcare KwaZulu has admitted in a plea bargain to having received  receiving 3.8 million rand (£342,000) from an illegal international organ trafficking syndicate.

The process involved the removal of kidneys from five children. The transplants were done at one of South Africa's top hospitals, Netcare St Augustine's in Durban.

Netcare KwaZulu pleaded guilty on 102 counts relating to illegal operations in Durban yesterday, and was fined 7,820,000 rand (£704,000). As part of its plea bargain, plea bargain, the prosecutor unconditionally withdrew criminal charges against the parent company, Netcare, and its chief executive, Richard Friedland.

Netcares has strongly denied any wrongdoing between 2003 and now. Its statement today admitted "criminal activities":  Jerry Vilakazi, chair of Netcare's board of directors, said, "It became evident to Netcare and its legal counsel that certain employees of NKZ must have been aware that some kidney donors were not related to kidney recipients, that payments must have been made to the donors for their kidneys and that certain of the kidney donors were minors at the time that their kidneys were removed".

A Netcare KZ statement said, "Dr Friedland commented that none of the employees who had participated in the criminal activities were still in the employ of Netcare or NKZ. Dr Friedland pointed out that the employees concerned had not only contravened the law but they had also disregarded Netcare's own internal policies, which expressly stipulated that ministerial permission in cases of transplants between non-related persons was to be obtained and that donations could only be done for altruistic purposes.

"The last of the illegal operations was performed at the end of 2003. Since then Netcare and its subsidiaries have devoted considerable time and attention to ensuring that the law, the guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Netcare's own internal guidelines are meticulously adhered to and enforced in order to ensure that the conduct of deviant employees does not again cause harm to Netcare and its stakeholders".

There is no suggestion of Netcare's UK hospitals having any involvement in this process.

Netcare Group - Network Healthcare Holdings Limited (Netcare) -  is the majority shareholder in General Healthcare Group, having acquired a controlling 52.6% interest in GHG in 2006.