The man, aged 48, who was not named, is suspected of belonging to a US- based network that has been at the centre of joint investigations in European countries for several months. Rome police established contact with him when a doctor in the city told them he had been approached on the Internet by an organisation offering kidneys for sale at $20,000 (pounds 12,500) each.
The organisation's site also offered hearts and pancreases, though no price was quoted. Unlike kidneys, they can only be removed from dead bodies. The man arrived in Rome some days ago for an appointment with undercover police, Italian news agencies reported, quoting sources close to inquiries.
Police took some time to overcome his initial distrust. He was detained, in his hotel room, after agreeing to deliver a kidney that was to have come from a donor outside Italy. It is thought to have been from an Asian country.
The authorities ruled out any involvement in the traffic in organs by doctors or hospitals in Italy, where organs can be provided only by registered transplant centres.
"An illegal network could not possibly function within a system as tightly controlled as our system," said Girolamo Sirchia of the north Italy transplant service.
Waiting-lists for transplants are lengthy in Italy, and many people go abroad for the operations.
Only 473 kidney transplants were carried out in Italy in 1997, leaving a waiting-list of about 750. Seven hundred Italians are waiting for new hearts after 362 transplants of that organ last year.Reuse content