The case grew in notoriety when allegations surfaced that the ethnic Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), which waged an insurgency against Serbian forces in the late 1990s, had extracted and sold organs from captives, some of them Serbs, in neighbouring Albania.
Five men were convicted in Kosovo yesterday of involvement in an organ trafficking ring that performed at least 23 illegal kidney transplants at a clinic on the outskirts of the capital, under the noses of UN police and Nato personnel.
The trial of the men, all citizens of Kosovo, has taken on added significance in the region because it echoes a high-profile probe into alleged organ harvesting by guerrilla fighters during the 1998-99 war.
Would-be donors from Turkey and poor parts of the former Soviet Union were lured to the clinic in Pristina, called Medicus, on a promise of €10,000-€12,000.
Recipients, mainly Israelis, paid between €80,000 and €100,000 for the organs. Some donors never received any money.
“They were alone, did not speak the local language, were uncertain of what they were doing and had no one to protect their interests,” Judge Dean Pineles, part of an international panel of judges, told the court.
The scandal came to light in late 2008 when a Turkish man was stopped by police at Pristina airport, visibly in pain having had his kidney removed.