A senior Nigerian politician and his wife have been charged with human trafficking after allegedly smuggling a 15-year-old boy into Britain in order to harvest his kidney for their sick daughter.
Ike Ekweremadu, 60, a district senator and lawyer, has been charged alongside his wife, Beatrice Nwanneka Ekweremadu, 55, with conspiracy to arrange and facilitate the travel of another person with a view to exploitation.
Mr Ekweremadu, one of the most senior and well-connected politicians in Nigeria, was appointed visiting professor of corporate and international linkages at the University of Lincoln earlier this month.
He was denied bail along with his wife, after prosecutors argued he posed a flight risk if allowed to stay at their north-west London home.
The couple are accused of having brought the homeless 15-year-old street-child into Britain from Lagos on a false passport – on which his age was given as 21 – after promising him a new life in London.
The child is said to have undergone a series of blood tests in Nigeria, before arriving in the UK on February 20 this year.
It is alleged by the prosecution that the couple supplied the teenager with a “medical travel visa” in order to “provide treatment for the defendants' daughter, who is undergoing kidney dialysis”.
An appointment was allegedly made for the teenager at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, where he had an initial appointment with a consultant.
The consultant refused to proceed further because he had concerns about the 15-year-old.
The court was told the boy returned to the couple’s address in Cricklewood and subsequently went to a London police station.
Mr Ekweremadu and his wife were arrested by Met Police officers as they were preparing to fly from London to Turkey on June 21.
Allegations 'preposterous', says lawyer
Mrs Ekweremadu was charged with arranging or facilitating the travel of another person with a view to exploitation, contrary to the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Her husband was charged with conspiring to arrange or facilitate the travel of another person with a view to exploitation.
The couple denied the charges through their defence counsel but did not enter a formal plea at this stage.
Antonia Gray, counsel for Mrs Ekweremadu, described her as a financial accountant with an unblemished record, adding: “She has never been complicit or involved in any illegal trafficking of young persons.”
Gavin Irwin, defence counsel for Mr Ekweremadu, described the allegations as “preposterous”, adding: "He is a member of the senate of Nigeria. He previously had an even more senior role as the deputy president of the senate of Nigeria. He has led a blameless life as a public servant.”
Mr Ekweremadu is a member of the People’s Democratic Party, the main opposition party in Nigeria, and has served as a senator for the south-eastern Enugu State since 2003.
He served as the deputy president of the Senate, one of the most powerful positions in the country, from 2007 to 2019 and is an old ally of Dr Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s former president.
Wife known for 'eradicating evil and immorality'
When he accepted his appointment at Lincoln university, Mr Ekweremadu reportedly said that he saw it as “a call to serve humanity" and that he was "always highly appreciative of it”.
Nigerian media have described Mrs Ekweremadu as a “lecturer” and a “humanist who worked towards eradicating evil in the forms of arrogance, immorality, drug abuse”. It is believed the couple have four adult children.
The couple spoke only to confirm their names, dates of birth and to tell the court clerk they live in Nigeria. Neither defendant entered any pleas.
Couple could be prosecuted in UK
Damla Ayas, prosecuting, said the case was unique because the majority of the alleged offending took place in the UK but part of it is said to have taken place in their homeland of Nigeria.
She said the Attorney General would need to make a decision within 14 days on whether the couple could be charged in the UK for all the alleged offences.
Lois Sheard, the chairman of Uxbridge Magistrates Court, told the pair she was denying them bail and remanding them in custody. The case was adjourned until July 7, pending further investigation.
The trafficking of human beings for organ removal is a major issue in North and West Africa, where impoverished and displaced people are at greater risk of exploitation, according to Interpol.
An investigation by the Italian government found that African migrants trying to reach Europe who were unable to pay for their journeys across the Mediterranean were being sold to organ traffickers in 2016.
The World Health Organisation estimates that between five and 10 per cent of global organ transplants are performed using illegally sourced organs.
The EU estimates that the organ trafficking business is worth up to £1 billion annually.
The People's Democratic Party declined to provide a comment to The Telegraph.