Cairo - Egyptian authorities have arrested 12 people including doctors and nurses suspected of belonging to a "large criminal network specialised in trading human organs", the interior ministry said Tuesday.
Hundreds of poor Egyptians sell their kidneys and livers each year to be able to buy food or pay off debts, according to the United Nations.
The network "agreed with Egyptians to transfer some of their organs to foreign patients in exchange for large sums of money, exploiting people's financial need," the interior ministry said.
Among those arrested were three doctors, four nurses, three hospital workers and two agents, it said in a statement.
Some were arrested "while they were carrying out an operation to remove the kidneys and part of the liver of a citizen in a private hospital" in Giza province, part of Greater Cairo.
The man had sold the organs for $10,000 (8,500 euros). Those operating on him were planning to implant the organs in a patient, the ministry said.
It did not give further details on the man's condition or say when the arrests took place, but added that the hospital had been closed pending an investigation.
The World Health Organisation in 2010 ranked Egypt among the top five countries in the world trading illegally in organs.
Egypt's parliament passed a law that year banning commercial trade in organs as well as transplants between Egyptians and foreigners, except between husbands and wives.
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