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Firm probed for illegal corpse tissue trade

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Firm probed for illegal corpse tissue trade
File photo of a donated organ. Photo: DPA
16:41 CEST+02:00
Tutogen Medical GmbH, a Bavarian company specialised in human tissue implants, is being investigated by state prosecutors for illegally trading in body parts from Ukrainian corpses.

News magazine Der Spiegel this week revealed 1,000 pages of internal company documents detailing the lucrative business for body parts, reporting that family members were often not aware of what would happen to their loved ones after they died. On Tuesday, the magazine reported that in addition to being under investigation by state authorities, the company had dealings with a notorious US citizen jailed in 2008 for illegally harvesting human organs.

Between 2000-2001, some 1,152 Ukrainian bodies were used to make tissue implant products that were sold mainly to the United States in what has become a billion-dollar industry, the magazine said. One body can be harvested for up to $250,000 in prepared parts.

The Bamberg state prosecutor's office said Monday it had opened an investigation of the Neunkirchen am Brand-based pharmaceutical company for desecration of the dead and illegal human tissue trade. Senior Prosecutor Joseph Düsel told the magazine that law enforcement officials had been notified by a witness in 2003, but this person refused to give details. Another anonymous tip in 2005 also did not lead to an investigation, he said.

“It's also illegal when Germans commit a crime abroad,” Düsel said.

A Tutogen company statement on Monday rejected the magazine's claims.

“The accusation of illegal tissue trade from the media is weak and incomprehensible,” the statement said, adding that the company maintained strict adherence to medical laws. “The tissue removal from a deceased donor is documented in detail and takes place with respect to all ethical principles of the donor and their family.”

But on Tuesday the magazine alleged that Tutogen bought around 1,000 corpses from Michael Mastromarino, an American sentenced to up to 58 years behind bars in 2008 for running an illegal body parts operation. His company, Biomedical Tissue Services (BTS), conducted underhanded deals with East Coast funeral homes, sometimes buying bodies that were so riddled with disease they were unfit to use for tissue implants. Mastromarino would then fake blood tests and family releases.

Mastromarino sold body parts to Tutogen Medical Inc., the US parent company of Tutogen GmbH., among four other companies. Tutogen creates tissue transplants made from human or animal bones, fascia, tendons, ligaments and cartilage.

The company has said it was not aware of BTS's underhanded business practices and refused to speak with Der Spiegel on Tuesday.

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