A wealthy Nigerian politician has denied offering to reward his sick daughter’s prospective kidney donor, saying selfless acts were less of a rarity in his country.
Ike Ekweremadu, 60, his wife Beatrice, 56, daughter Sonia, 25, and medical “middleman” Obinna Obeta, 50, are accused of conspiring to arrange or facilitate the travel of the young man to Britain with a view to his exploitation.
The 21-year-old street trader from Lagos was allegedly offered up to £7,000 and the promise of a better life in the UK in exchange for giving a kidney to Sonia Ekweremadu.
It is alleged he was falsely presented as Sonia’s cousin in a failed bid to persuade medics at the Royal Free Hospital in London to carry out the £80,000 private procedure.
In opening addresses at the Old Bailey on Wednesday, lawyers for the defendants insisted they believed the donor, who cannot be identified, was acting “altruistically”.
Martin Hicks KC, for Ike Ekweremadu, told jurors: “Be alive please to the possible cultural differences between this country and that of Nigeria, particularly to altruistic donation.”
He said: “We say the issue in this case is simple – did there exist an agreement to exploit (the donor) in the way the prosecution allege and if so who was a party to it?”
The politician’s case is that Dr Obeta had spoken to Ekweremadu’s medically trained brother Diwe in the autumn of 2021 and had offered to help find Sonia a prospective donor.
Mr Hicks said: “In Nigerian society there is an expression ‘everyone is each other’s keeper’ and the altruistic donation of organs is not regarded there as such a rare event as it is in this country.
“He will also say he was told (the donor) had offered to altruistically donate a kidney to Sonia.
“He denies he put directly or indirectly any reward to (the donor) or offered to do so and throughout he believed (the donor) was content to do so without reward.”
Mr Hicks said Ekweremadu’s only communication was through his brother Diwe and he relied on the “medical knowledge and standing” of the doctors involved.
He denied lying in support of the donor’s visa application to travel to the UK and was not privy to an online application which claimed the young man was related to Sonia.
Mr Hicks said Ekweremadu did not attend any visits to the Royal Free Hospital in February and March last year, which concluded that the donor was unsuitable.
He added: “In April 2022 and with the assistance of Diwe he continued the family search for a suitable donor for his daughter Sonia and that search continues.
“We question whether (the donor) was exploited as suggested by the prosecution.”
Speaking on behalf of Sonia, John Femi-Ola KC said: “She suffers from a very severe kidney disease. She receives dialysis treatment three days per week. Each session is for four hours.
“The treatment is for the rest of her life unless there is a transplant in the future which now must be much in doubt given the publicity this case has attracted.
“Her illness is life threatening, life limiting and potentially life ending. Of course her parents love her as do all her immediate family and friends.
“It may not surprise you to learn that everyone, in particular her parents, would wish to protect her against the emotional and psychological stress which you may think accompanies such a terrible illness.
“It is her case that she had no awareness of any reward or other material advantage offered to potential donors that came forward to help her.”
He suggested there was an “irony” in the case and questioned who the “real victim” was.
Anu Mohindru KC, for Beatrice, disputed the prosecution claim she was “kept up to speed” on what was going on, saying she was party to only a “tiny” amount of communication.
In her opening address, Sally Howes KC said her client Dr Obeta was in the “unique” position to help the Ekweremadus, having gone through a kidney transplant.
She said Dr Obeta’s donor, who also came from Lagos, was “voluntary and completely altruistic”.
She told jurors: “Through his work as a doctor of medicine in Nigeria, Obinna Obeta was both respected and admired.
“He had touched the lives of many and those people had a great affection for him.
“It is perhaps of little surprise that (his donor) was not the only donor willing to make the necessary kidney donation to the doctor for his transplant.”
When he was contacted by his former medical school classmate Diwe about his sick niece, Dr Obeta was “both keen and willing to help”, Ms Howes said.
She told jurors that his “medical knowledge combined with his own personal experience” put him in a “unique position” to help and advise.
She added: “He was motivated by his desire to help a fellow citizen because no-one would understand the misery and pain like someone who had been through it themselves.”
The Ekweremadus, who have an address in Willesden Green, north-west London, and Dr Obeta, from Southwark, south London, deny the charge against them and the Old Bailey trial continues.
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