Understanding the challenges to investigating and prosecuting organ trafficking: a comparative analysis of two cases

Frederike Ambagtsheer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
33 Downloads (Pure)


The human organ trade is proliferating globally. However, far fewer cases have been prosecuted than would be expected based on estimates of the crime. Research exploring the challenges to investigating and prosecuting organ trafficking cases is practically non-existent. Also no studies exist that explain these challenges utilizing a criminal justice framework. This article aims to explain the legal, institutional and environmental factors that affected the investigation and prosecution of two organ trafficking cases: the Netcare case, exposed in South Africa and the Medicus case, exposed in Kosovo. It analyzes these factors through a comparative, mixed-method design, utilizing a theoretical criminal justice framework. Both cases constituted globally operating criminal networks involving brokers and transplant professionals that colluded in organizing illegal transplants. Both cases contained human trafficking elements, however only the Medicus case was prosecuted as a human trafficking case. Legal uncertainty, a lack of institutional readiness and cross-border collaboration issues hampered investigation and prosecution of the Netcare case. The Medicus case also reported problems during cross-border collaboration, as well as a corrupt environment and institutional barriers, which impeded a successful case outcome. Recommendations to improve enforcement of organ trafficking include improving identification of suspicious transplant activity, strengthening cross-border collaboration and enhancing whistleblower protection laws.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTrends in Organized Crime
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The study was funded by the Prevention of and Fight against Crime Programme of the European Commission Directorate General Home Affairs, under the project, ‘Combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of organ removal’ (the HOTT project) Grant no. 4000002186, 2012–2016, www.hottproject.com .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021, The Author(s).


Dive into the research topics of 'Understanding the challenges to investigating and prosecuting organ trafficking: a comparative analysis of two cases'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this