Human organ racket | Sunday Observer
An insult to humanality

Human organ racket

11 December, 2022

The first living-related kidney transplant that revolutionised the medical sciences took place in 1954 by a team including Dr Joseph Murray at Brigham Hospital in Boston.

Almost three decades later, in 1985 the first such transplant took place in Sri Lanka giving hope to Sri Lankan kidney patients. The surgery was performed by Professor Rezvi Sheriff and Professor A. H. Sheriffdeen at the Colombo Rutnam Hospital on 35-year-old Litus Thirimanne, a resident of Kadawatha. The kidney transplanted during the surgery had been donated by the patient’s father.

Dr. Sheriff was educated at Zahira College as well as the Royal College in Colombo and entered the medical faculty of the University of Colombo going on to be trained in the United Kingdom later. However, the Western Hospital located on Cotta Road in Borella, commenced by Dr Sheriff in 1984 as Lanka Medicare Company to treat kidney patients as well as carry out dialysis has now been hit with shocking allegations of an illegal kidney racket.


However, the administration of the hospital has since refuted the allegations and claimed it will extend its support to any investigations carried out.

In fact, an investigation has already been launched by the Colombo Crimes Division under the guidance of the Attorney Generals’ Department on an alleged kidney racket taking place at the hospital.

Today illegal trafficking in body parts is only second to the drug trade in the world. Its victims are often the poor. The world’s largest kidney racket unraveled in India in 2008 when it was revealed that kidneys taken from the poor were being sold to the rich in the US, UK, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Greece.

Its mastermind was a doctor identified as Amit Kumar by the authorities. However, he managed to escape prison, going on to prove the power within the kidney racket mafia.

Five years later the Tamil Nadu Police uncovered another similar Indian kidney racket based in Sri Lanka. The information was revealed by Suresh Prajapati, a body parts broker arrested by the Indian police at the time.

Indian connection

Prajapati had revealed that Indians were brought to several Sri Lankan private hospitals for the purpose. While the Sri Lankan authorities were informed, local investigations revealed more information on the racket including the names of the hospitals involved. Remarkably Western Hospital was not among them.

While the authorities claimed investigations will be carried out and action will be taken against those responsible the issue has been buried with time. Though seven Indians were arrested in connection, it is said the kingpins of the racket managed to get them released and repatriate them to India from Mannar through the sea route.

Now Sri Lanka has once been startled by such a kidney racket allegations connected to the Western Hospital. While no direct link of the hospital has been proven yet, it has been revealed that the transplant of these body parts harvested from poor donors in the promise of money and medical care was carried out at the hospital. The information has only come to light now after many of the donors went unpaid despite the promises made by the smugglers.

Body parts brokers are accused of targeting the poor and convincing them to donate their kidneys for a fee while pocketing a larger fee than the donor for their services.

One such broker has been identified as Mohamed Basheer Rajabdeen alias Bhai, a resident of Kajimawatta, Grandpass. Another is Supun Sanjeewa alias Sandun from the Sirisanda Sevana housing scheme in Bloemendhal, Colombo 13.


The kidneys of five donors solicited by Sandun had been harvested and transplanted at the Western Hospital between August 3 and November 3 this year. The donors had been promised fees ranging from Rs. 5 to 6 million but had to leave empty-handed after being discharged from the hospital. Among the victims is a 26-year-old welder from Kochcikade, Negombo, a 42-year-old street sweeper from Colombo 15, a 33-year-old welder from Colombo 13, 41-year-old a day labourer from Colombo 13 as well as a 34-year-old mother of two from Colombo 15. The story of the woman is particularly tragic as she had sold her kidney to set aside some money for the future of her five-month-old newborn.

But now unpaid, the victims go in search of Sandun, the body parts broker only to find out he too had been stiffed by Bhai, identified as the main broker.

Sandun, along with the donors and their relatives then visit the Western Hospital demanding to be paid as Bhai had claimed the funds will come through the hospital. Still unpaid and enraged, Sandun then decides to inform the media of the kidney racket taking place within the hospital.

On November 18, as Sandun was heading to the hospital along with a TV crew, he received a message from a person claiming to be from the hospital. The message said Sandun should come to the car park adjacent to the All Saints Church in Borella along with the others where he will be paid.

Sandun along with the crew is met by a Chief Inspector of the Colombo Fraud Investigations Bureau at the car park. Known to be a corrupt policeman, he was accused of arresting an innocent man for the murder of Bernard Jayaratne, the owner of the Biyagama Village Hotel on February 20, 2012 in a bid to shield the real perpetrator.

Despite being interdicted for the act, he later returns to work as the OIC of the Western Province Intelligence Unit. He is accused of carrying out various corrupt acts and was only removed after the Police received petitions after petitions against him.

This cop tells Sandun and others about the legal status of carrying out a kidney racket including its sale and purchase. He tells them being involved in such acts could land them in prison in an attempt to intimidate them.


He demands they stop bothering the hospital and gets them to sign a document claiming they will accept a mere Rs. 200,000 instead of what was promised to end the issue.

But unknown to them, all this is recorded by the undercover TV crew and televised on November 21.

According to the footage, it was revealed the policemen who had earlier clocked off work, had arrived at the location to meet Sandun in uniform in a private vehicle bearing plate number CNN 7808.

The vehicle number reveals it belongs to Habeena Sheriff, the daughter of hospital owner Professor Rezvi Sheriff. Therefore, if the hospital had no involvement as it claims, it is unclear why it attempted to threaten the victims through a corrupt policeman in this manner.

As complaints began to trickle in after the airing of the footage, five complainants claim the transplants were carried out at the Western Hospital, a fact not denied by the hospital to date.

Among the complainants was the mother of two from Colombo 13. She told the Police in October a man living in her apartment complex had convinced her to donate the kidney for which she would receive Rs. 5 million in return. The woman had agreed to the proposal with her husband’s permission and was taken to the Western Hospital by the broker. Here she meets a woman identified as Usha, who carried out several medical tests on her to check her health and suitability as well as to match her kidney to an awaiting recipient.

The woman’s kidney is harvested on October 31 and the broker hands her Rs. 75,000 after the procedure. He promises that she will be paid Rs. 6 million after being discharged from the hospital. However, no money was forthcoming on that day.

Deshabandu Tennekoon

The investigations into the incident are handed over to the CCD on the instructions of the Western Province Senior DIG Deshabandu Tennekoon. However, more plans were afoot to distract the people from the racket as a report about a previously unheard-of testicle transplant racket spreads like wildfire. This story was first told to the media by a donor’s brother who himself had attempted to sell one of his kidneys.

He claimed, deemed unsuited to donate his own kidney, Bhai had inquired if he would be willing to sell his left testicle for Rs. 7 million instead. The media even reported the CCD had commenced an investigation into this new-fangled racket. However, the CCD has since refuted these claims.

The main broker, Bhai who was abroad when the racket was revealed, handed himself to the CCD through a lawyer on December 5. He too had denied the claims of a testicle harvesting racket claiming he had not connected any donor to the Western Hospital either. However, he has provided the Police with information on several other brokers including Sandun.

According to initial investigations, CCD sleuths have found that victims who were poor were promised millions to sell their kidneys which were then harvested and transplanted to rich and affluent foreigners.

The CCD said at least 1,200 such transplants have taken place at the Western Hospital in the past three decades. In 2022, at least 52 transplants had been performed with the CCD deciding to hone in on these specifically. The CCD has also obtained travel bans on Professor Rezvi Sheriff and six board members of the Western Hospital including his daughter Habeena.

The Police have also revealed that Prof. Rezvi Sheriff himself had obtained a kidney for himself from a hospital staffer promising to pay Rs. 9.5 million but in the end had not paid the donor in full. At the time of writing the Police has only nabbed the suspect identified as Bhai while no action have been taken against the policeman who appeared for the Western Hospital.