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News 27 Dec 17

Leading Romanian Transplant Surgeon Accused of Embezzlement

Prosecutors believe one of the country’s most acclaimed kidney transplant surgeons for years ran a lucrative business, transferring patients from the state institute where he worked to his own private clinic. 

Ana Maria Luca
BIRN
Bucharest
Romania's organ transplant system has been under scrutiny since 2016, when the Minister of Health ordered an audit and revealed that there were suspicions of embezzlement of public funds in four transplant hospitals. Photo: Brianparra/Flikr

A Romanian court has placed one of the country’s best-known transplant surgeons under supervision, after he was accused of embezzling public funds for 17 years.

Prosecutors detained Mihai Lucan and his son, Ciprian Lucan, last Wednesday. The court rejected their request to investigate them in detention.

Prosecutors say the surgeon committed fraud by using equipment and personnel from a public hospital that he was in charge of to operate on patients in his private clinic.

The patients were diagnosed and admitted for surgery at the state clinic, but then advised to seek surgery in Lucan’s private hospital, where they paid for surgeries. They were then transferred back to the public hospital for recovery.

Prosecutors say their allegations are based on scores of testimonies from patients and employees.

From 2000 until 2017 Lucan ran the Romanian Urology and Kidney Transplant Insititute in the city of Cluj and became well known thanks to intense media coverage of his innovative surgery techniques.

He resigned in April 2017, months after the then health minister, Vlad Voiculescu, ordered an internal investigation into how organ transplant clinics operated in Romania.

Prosecutors say the state clinic counted 1 million euros in losses due to the alleged fraud committed by the head surgeon.

Prosecutors said cryotherapy equipment used in treating cancer patients was transferred to the private clinic where 159 patients were charged from 3,000 to 6,700 euros per intervention. However all the supplies were covered by the public clinic.

Prosecutors also said the surgeon kept a written diary of his plans and a record of the public officials he contacted for help.

“Only God can save me now,” Lucan told the media on Monday.

The investigation started after a former employee of the Urology Institute filed a complaint to the organised crime prosecutors. The date of the complaint was not disclosed.

In November, the new management of the Cluj Transplant Institute appealed for help, asking former or potential patients to fund-raise so that the staff wages could be paid.

On November 13, the new manager of the Institute, Dr Silviu Moga, said it was no secret that, for years, kidney transplant patients had been sent to Lucan’s private clinic for surgery.

“Patients were told the state system was badly financed and did not have the necessary equipment for the surgery; after intervention, they were brought back for care at the institute,” Dr Moga said.

Romanian institutions coordinating organ transplant have been under scrutiny in 2016, when the then health minister, Voiculescu, ordered an audit. In November 2016, he revealed that irregularities in spending public funds had been found in four hospitals as well as the Romanian Transplant Agency.

According to Voiculescu, hardly anyone did not know of the irregularities in the transplant clinic in Cluj.

“The Lucan case, unfortunately, is not the only one,” Voiculescu wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. “The health system is like a spider web where feudal spiders without a conscience are turning patients’ lives and healthcare into a business,” he added.

He also said that whistle blowers pay a price, as patients who complain risk losing their lives and nurses may lose their careers. Officials who dare take on corruption in the system are attacked and eventually removed from their posts.

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