The head of a Japanese nonprofit organization has been arrested on suspicion of mediating an organ transplant performed overseas without government permission, in the first such case in Japan, investigative sources said Thursday.

Police have filed a case against the Association for Patients of Intractable Diseases with prosecutors following the arrest of Hiromichi Kikuchi for allegedly violating the organ transplant law.

Photo taken Feb. 9, 2023, shows a confiscated brochure on organ transplants performed overseas. (Kyodo)

Kikuchi, 62, is suspected of recommending to relatives of a man in his 40s living in Tokyo that the man should undergo a transplant overseas without government permission.

After asking the relatives to pay 33 million yen ($251,000) into the NPO's bank account for travel and transplant costs, he then arranged for the man to undergo a liver transplant from a deceased donor at a hospital in Belarus around Feb. 10, 2022, according to the sources.

But the patient's condition worsened after the surgery. He received another liver transplant from a living family member in Japan, but was unable to recover and died.

Kikuchi has denied part of the allegations, saying he was not aware that permission was required for transplants performed overseas, according to the police.

The NPO, founded in 2007, says on its website that it has guided people who wish to receive transplants to overseas medical institutions, but that it does not mediate organs transplants.

Japan has one of the lowest rates of organ donation among industrialized countries, according to the Nippon Foundation, which supports the Japan Organ Transplant Network.

In fiscal 2016, there were 103 organs registered for transfer. As of June 2017, meanwhile, about 13,450 registered patients were waiting for a heart, liver, kidney, or other organ transplant, the foundation said.

Under the transplant law, unauthorized mediation is prohibited, and violators are punished with imprisonment of up to one year, a fine of up to one million yen, or both.