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Monday 19 March 2018

Interpol probes Thai 'baby factory'

Thai police display pictures of surrogate babies born to the Japanese man at the centre of a surrogacy scandal (AP)
Thai police display pictures of surrogate babies born to the Japanese man at the centre of a surrogacy scandal (AP)

A 24-year-old Japanese businessman who has 16 surrogate babies and an alleged desire to father hundreds more is under investigation.

Interpol has launched a multinational investigation into what Thailand has dubbed the "Baby Factory" case.

Police raided a Bangkok flat earlier this month and found nine babies and nine nannies living in a few unfurnished rooms filled with baby bottles, bouncy chairs, play pens and nappies.

They have since identified Mitsutoki Shigeta as the father of those babies - and seven others.

"What I can tell you so far is that I've never seen a case like this," Thailand's Interpol director, police Major General Apichart Suribunya, said.

"We are trying to understand what kind of person makes this many babies."

He said regional Interpol offices in Japan, Cambodia, Hong Kong and India have been asked to probe Mr Shigeta's background.

Police say he appears to have registered businesses or apartments in those countries and has frequently travelled there.

"We are looking into two motives. One is human trafficking and the other is exploitation of children," said police Lieutenant General Kokiat Wongvorachart, Thailand's lead investigator in the case.

He said Mr Shigeta made 41 trips to Thailand since 2010. On many occasions he travelled to nearby Cambodia, where he brought four of his babies.

Mr Shigeta has not been charged with any crime. He is trying to get his children back - the 12 in Thailand are being cared for by social services - and he has proven through DNA samples sent from Japan that he is their biological father.

He quickly left Thailand after the August 5 raid on the flat and has said through a lawyer that he simply wanted a large family and has the means to support it.

Mr Kokiat said Mr Shigeta hired 11 Thai surrogate mothers to carry his children, including four sets of twins. Police have not determined the biological mothers.

The founder of a multinational fertility clinic that provided Mr Shigeta with two surrogate mothers said she warned Interpol about him even before the first baby was born in June last year.

"As soon as they got pregnant, he requested more. He said he wanted 10 to 15 babies a year, and that he wanted to continue the baby-making process until he's dead," said Mariam Kukunashvili, founder of the New Life clinic, which is based in Thailand and six other countries.

He also inquired about equipment to freeze his sperm to have sufficient supply when he's older, she said.

As for Mr Shigeta's motives, she said he told the clinic's manager that "he wanted to win elections and could use his big family for voting," and that "the best thing I can do for the world is to leave many children".

She is based at the company's headquarters in Georgia, and said she never met Mr Shigeta but received reports from her Thai staff.

She said in April last year she sent faxes in English and French to Interpol's head office in Lyon, France, and an email through the agency's website, but they went unanswered.

Mr Apichart said the local office never saw the warnings.

She also sent Mr Shigeta an email to express suspicion, and lawyer Ratpratan Tulatorn responded on his behalf in an August 31 2013 email.

The lawyer said Mr Shigeta was involved in "no dishonesty, no illegal activities". He said his client hoped to keep using New Life, but the company then stopped working with him.

Mr Shigeta's activities drew no attention until early this month, when an Australian couple was accused of abandoning a baby with his Thai surrogate mother - but taking his twin sister - after learning the boy had Down's Syndrome.

Though the couple disputes the allegation, the case prompted a crackdown by Thai authorities on what had been a largely unregulated industry.

After the Australian case emerged, police received a tip that prompted the raid on Mr Shigeta's Bangkok flat.

Mr Ratpratan appeared during the raid to insist that Mr Shigeta had done nothing wrong.

"These are legal babies, they all have birth certificates," he told Thailand's Channel 3 television station.

"There are assets purchased under these babies' names. There are savings accounts for these babies, and investments. If he were to sell these babies, why would he give them these benefits?"

He is no longer Mr Shigeta's lawyer, and his replacement has not responded to requests for comment. Shigeta's current whereabouts are unknown.

Press Association

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