One of India's top hospitals unwittingly removed the kidneys of organ-trafficking victims believing they were donating them to relatives, a hospital spokesman said, after police arrested five over the racket.
A criminal gang including two workers at the Apollo Hospital in New Delhi allegedly lured poor people to sell their kidneys for 300,000 rupees ($6000) before selling the organs on for huge profits, police said.
The gang used forged documents to pretend the victims were relatives of needy transplant recipients, fooling staff at the hospital, where two of the suspects worked as assistants to a senior nephrologist.
"The hospital has been a victim of a well-orchestrated operation to cheat patients and the hospital," an Apollo spokesman said in a statement, adding that the assistants were not on the employee payroll.
"We urge the police to take the strictest of action against all those involved."
Commercial trade in organs is illegal in India and transplant donations to non-relatives must be approved by a special committee.
The victims came from across India, including Tamil Nadu state in the south and West Bengal in the east, to have their kidneys removed.
"We detected five cases of organ sale (by this criminal ring) this year. We have arrested five men and seized fake ID proofs, CDs, files and documents," a New Delhi police officer said.
Police initially raided the hospital last week, making three arrests, he said.
A chronic shortage of organs available for transplant fuels a booming black market trade in the body parts in India.
Millions of Indians suffer from kidney disease, mostly because of high rates of diabetes, hiking demand for transplants annually.