Egypt busts organ trading racket, arrests 45 people

Egypt's Minister of Health and Population Dr. Imad Eddin Ahmed Radi attends a signing of agreements ceremony with Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt has uncovered a network accused of illicit international trafficking in human organs, arresting 45 people and recovering millions of dollars in a dawn raid on Tuesday, the health ministry said.

Among those held were doctors, nurses, middlemen and organ-buyers, involved in what the ministry described as the largest organ-trafficking network exposed in Egypt to date.

"The accused who were arrested exploited the economic situation of some Egyptians and the suffering of some patients and their need for treatment to take large financial sums from them, thus breaking the law," the ministry said in a statement.

It said the investigation, which involved the Health Ministry and Administrative Control Authority, a powerful anti-corruption body, focused on a group of private hospitals and health centres, both licensed and unlicensed, where transplants and organ harvesting took place.

It said those premises had been shut by authorities while doctors involved were suspended from practice pending investigation by public prosecutors.

Some of the doctors arrested worked at well-known institutions including the medical faculties of Cairo and Ain Shams universities -- Egypt's two largest state universities.

The statement did not give any details about the amount of money recovered or the magnitude of the trade. It was not immediately possible to identify or reach the doctors and others arrested in the government crackdown.

Organ purchase is banned in Egypt, but poverty drives some Egyptians to sell body parts, often to wealthy foreigners, in illicit transactions.

Media reports have emerged this year of organ traders targeting African migrants desperate for money to pay their way to Europe on rickety boats. Reuters has not been able to verify those reports.

(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Lin Noueihed; Editing by Giles Elgood)