The public prosecutor in Barcelona has requested a European Investigation Order to be filed in France in a bid to verify whether former Barcelona soccer club player Éric Abidal received a liver transplant from his cousin Gerard Abidal, or if there were irregularities in the process. Prosecutors want Gerard Abidal to be medically examined to prove he donated the liver, arguing the case shows signs of organ trafficking and document falsification.
Wiretapped conversations suggest the liver was illegally purchased by FC Barcelona
The judge is expected to make a decision on whether to grant the order in the next few days.
Questions over the liver transplant arose in July after it emerged that the Civil Guard had phone taps of the former Barcelona FC president Sandro Rosell that suggested the organ may have been illegally purchased by the club. Payment for organs is illegal in Spain.
Prosecutors claim there are significant differences between the consent documents signed by the French former soccer player and his cousin before the operation took place in 2012. The most serious discrepancy is the appearance of the signatures, especially that of Gerard Abidal.
In view of these irregularities, prosecutors asked a court in Barcelona in July to reopen the case to “clear up differences found in the various documents” that were provided, and to positively identify the living donor who helped the cancer-stricken Abidal, who is currently the soccer team’s technical secretary.
Spain’s National Transplant Organization (ONT), which is listed as an aggrieved party in the case, has backed the prosecutors and called for an investigation to “clear up any shred of doubt about a case that has great relevance to the reputation of our transplant system.”
On July 17, the ONT completed its own investigation into the liver transplant performed on Abidal, concluding that was carried out “in accordance with the law,” as far as it could tell, but highlighted the fact that it did not have access to all of the relevant facts. The organization maintains that it has “zero tolerance for organ trafficking.”
The Clínic Hospital in Barcelona, where the operation took place, also reviewed the case a month ago and found that the transplant operation had met all legal and medical norms.
This is the second time a Spanish court has requested help from the French authorities in the case. In July 2017, a Barcelona judge asked a court in the French city of Lyon to take a statement from the cousin and have him medically examined to see whether he has scars that would suggest liver surgery. The French judiciary refused, arguing that payment for living organ donations is not a crime in France.
In the wake of the allegations, Abidal strenuously denied that there had been any wrongdoing, and published a photo of himself and his cousin in hospital purportedly after the procedure had taken place.
English version by Melissa Kitson.