After an initial denial, officials in Azerbaijan have confirmed that a hospital in Baku is under investigation for performing improper organ culling and transplant operations.
On November 24, Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and General Prosecutor’s Office issued a joint statement about an investigation into 10 kidney transplants performed by the Azerbaijan International University Medical Center.
Unidentified Medical Center employees have been charged with causing “grave consequences as a result of an abuse of power,” a criminal offense. The “consequences” have not been specified.
In the aftermath of the revelation, the Ministry of Health has withdrawn AIU Medical Center’s license to offer medical services, the statement added.
Azerbaijan International University is a private higher education institution in Baku that is headed by businessman Elshad Abdullayev, an active member of the governing Yeni Azerbaijan Party.
The surgeries involved 10 Ukrainian citizens, who provided kidneys “for citizens of other countries” for a top rate of $10,000. The practice is legal in Azerbaijan, provided the surgeries are registered and authorized in advance by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Health, and provided the hospital and surgeon in question have a license to perform such operations. The joint Interior Ministry/Prosecutor’s statement asserted that the 10 procedures under investigation allegedly “were not registered in the proper way.”
The Ministry of Health is the only state body that monitors the activities of government-run and private hospitals and medical clinics, and conducts on-site inspections.
The AIU Medical Center could not be reached for comment; phones at the hospital went unanswered this week.
Two opposition newspapers, Yeni Musavat and Azadlig, reported on November 27 that Abdullayev, the head of Azerbaijan International University, had departed Azerbaijan for Dubai. The reports could not be independently confirmed, however. EurasiaNet.org could not reach Abdullayev via his cell phone, or through his office at Azerbaijan International University.
News of the scandal first came to light in August, when Ukraine’s Interior Ministry announced that it had arrested in Kyiv four Ukrainian organ transplant surgeons and an Israeli citizen. The suspects were alleged to have been engaged in recruiting Ukrainian donors for organ transplants. The donors were allegedly taken to hospitals in Azerbaijan and Ecuador, where the surgeries were performed, Yuriy Kucher, chief of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s Anti-Trafficking Department, said during an August news conference.
A few weeks after Kucher met journalists in Kyiv, the Azerbaijani General Prosecutor’s Office denied “media speculation” that Ukrainian transplant surgeries were taking place in Azerbaijan. “An investigation did not reveal such facts,” the prosecutor’s office asserted in an August 15 statement.
Three months later, however, the prosecutor’s office backtracked to confirm the information in connection with AIU’s Medical Center. It did not explain why it had earlier denied reports that implicated Azerbaijan.
An Azerbaijani Interior Ministry source, who did not want to be named, told EurasiaNet.org that Ukrainian investigators, led by Kucher, had visited Baku between late October and early November. While in Azerbaijan, Kucher had provided Azerbaijani investigators with documents that were said to prove that illegal transplant surgeries had taken place in Baku. The General Prosecutor’s Office in Baku now maintains that the investigation targets only Azerbaijani International University.
So far, news of the organ transplant investigation has been overshadowed for most Azerbaijanis by media coverage of the November parliamentary elections, as well as the recent WikiLeaks disclosures and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Kazakhstan.
This past summer, the Ministry of Education revoked Azerbaijan International University’s license to enroll students for having allegedly violated “the government’s rules on student enrolment.” The Ministry of Education said that the university was illegally enrolling students who had not taken a standardized entrance exam.
Shahin Abbasov is a freelance correspondent based in Baku. He is also a board member of the Open Society Foundation-Azerbaijan.