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A Nigerian politician and his wife have been charged with plotting to traffic a homeless 15-year-old boy to Britain to harvest his organs.
Ike Ekweremadu, 60, an opposition senator and former deputy senate president, and his wife, Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, 55, appeared at Uxbridge magistrates court in west London on Thursday.
The couple were arrested on Tuesday at Heathrow airport before they flew to Turkey, the court heard. Both deny the allegations.
Police said the boy, who the court was told was homeless, had been safeguarded.
Ekweremadu is an opposition senator in the southern Nigerian state of Enugu. He is also a principal at a law firm and has been influential in Nigerian politics for several decades.
The couple have been charged with conspiracy to arrange and/or facilitate travel of another person with a view to exploitation.
The prosecutor, Damla Ayas, said: “It is conspiracy in relation to human trafficking offences for the purposes of organ harvesting.”
The prosecution told the court jurisdictional issues meant the attorney general’s consent was required for the case to proceed. The couple were remanded in custody until their next court appearance on 7 July.
Ayas said: “They were interviewed at the police station. Both of the defendants have provided a prepared statement. Mr Ekweremadu in his prepared statement denied allegations of human trafficking. He said at no stage has he arranged transport for anyone with intention to exploit them.”
His wife, an accountant, also denied the allegations in her prepared statement.
The investigation was launched by the Metropolitan police’s specialist crime team after detectives were alerted to potential offences under modern slavery legislation in May. The charges relate to alleged activity between 1 August 2021 and 5 May 2022.
Gavin Irwin, representing Ike Ekweremadu, said: “There is no question this is a serious allegation. Mr Ekweremadu is a member of the senate in Nigeria. He has previously held an even more senior role as deputy president of the senate. He is a member of the bar in Nigeria. He is a principal in a law firm that bears his name.
“Those issues taken together go way beyond him being a person of good character ... rather that he has led a blameless life as a public servant.” Irwin added that the allegations were “nothing short of preposterous”.
The politician was recently made a visiting professor at the University of Lincoln. A spokesperson for the university said: “Visiting professors are often, as is in this case, non-resident at the university, unpaid and advisory. We are deeply concerned about the nature of these allegations but as this is an active police investigation, we cannot comment further at this stage.”
Antonia Gray, for Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, said: “She has never been complicit or involved in any alleged illegal trafficking of any young person. She is a financial accountant ... with an unblemished record.”
Organ harvesting involves removing parts of the body, often for commercial gain and against the will of the victim.
Debbie Ariyo, the chief executive of the London-based charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (Afruca), said: “Organ harvesting is a massive problem in Nigeria itself. This is the first prosecution in the UK that I’m aware of.”
An Interpol report last year found that trafficking for organ removal was a particular concern in north and west Africa, “where impoverished communities and displaced populations are at greater risk of exploitation”.