A Japanese millionaire has won the custody of 13 babies on Tuesday amid suspicions that he is engaging in human trafficking. Central Juvenile Court in Bangkok granted the custody of the children to Mitsutoki Shigeta, who claimed he was fathering the children through surrogacy simply because he wants a large family. The ruling also means that the Thai surrogate parents, who were each paid up to $12,500 to go through the entire pregnancy of each child, also forfeit their right to become parents of the babies.
The court decision comes on the heels of an investigation that started in August 2014, when Thai police raided Shigeta's condo in Bangkok to find nine babies in the complex. They also found nannies taking care of each infant, although the place had very little furniture other than playpens.
Shigeta fled Thailand right after the incident and was not present for the court ruling, which determined they could not find any evidence that could lead to human trafficking.
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That didn't stop Interpol's Thai director from referring to Shigeta's surrogacy as a "baby factory." When a flood of tips prompted Interpol to look into the case, additional investigations uncovered evidence that Shigeta had fathered up to 17 children in Thailand.
One of the tips came from Mariam Kukunashvili, who runs the New Life clinic where she became suspicious of the 28-year-old millionaire, who first showed up in search of surrogate mothers as early as 2011. Kukunashvili also recalled that after getting two women to become surrogates, Shigeta also indicated he planned to parent at least 1,000 children.
During the trial, Shigeta's lawyers from the firm Siam Premier International presented documentation on how the children were going to be cared for financially and how they would be raised in a secure environment. The evidence included a number of bank accounts and images of a Tokyo home adjacent to a public park. Adding more fodder to Shigeta's case was the fact that he had won a previous ruling involving four other children, whom lawyers stated were "well cared for." Shigeta has fathered two additional children through surrogacy in India.
Despite the victory, the Bangkok raid has set a legal precedent. Foreign surrogacy has since been banned by the Thai government.