A rich Japanese man has won the right to be sole parent and legal guardian of 13 children that he fathered through surrogacy in Thailand
A Thai court has granted custody of 13 children born by surrogacy to a Japanese millionaire, in a case dating back four years.
News of the children first emerged in 2014 when police raided an apartment in Bangkok and discovered nine of the babies living with nine nannies in unfurnished rooms. It is not clear where the other four children were living.
The discovery marked the beginning of a bizarre story, which – as it unfolded – would have a direct impact on Thai surrogacy laws.
Mitsutoki Shigeta, the father of the children, was 24 years old when his case first captured the attention of the authorities, media and public. It emerged that he had paid women between $9,300 and $12,500 to act as surrogate mothers for him, the Guardian reported.
He used his own sperm to fertilise donor eggs, which were then implanted into the women’s wombs, according to Reuters.
Although it was legal at that time for foreigners to use surrogacy services in the country, a ban was introduced in 2015, due in no small part to Shigeta’s case, which was dubbed ‘the baby factory’ by local media. It was feared that he may have had links to human trafficking.
Bangkok’s Central Juvenile and Family Court has now ruled in his favour, declaring that he has no history of bad behaviour or links to human trafficking. The court has also stated that Shigeta, who was proven to be the biological father of all the babies, has a right to take care of his children as they were born before the new law was introduced and as the surrogate mothers each signed a legal document relinquishing their custody rights.
It was also noted that his vast wealth means that he has the financial means to ensure the children have a good upbringing, reported the AP.
Shigeta, whose father is the owner of Hikari Tsushin, a large Japanese communications company, earns over $3.1m in annual dividends, the news agency reported.
The petitioner has always insisted on privacy, but was named by Japanese media after his case caught the attention of the press.
He remains secretive and didn’t attend court to hear the verdict, which was made in the presence of his lawyer.
One of the surrogate mothers, a street-food vendor, remembers meeting Shigeta for the first time two months after giving birth to his baby, describing him as very quiet.
“He didn’t say anything to me,” said Wassana, who asked for her name to be changed. “He never introduced himself. He only smiled and nodded. His lawyer did the talking,” the AP reported her as saying.
Mystery remains around the reasons why Shigeta wants to have so many children. His lawyer stated that it was for personal and business reasons and that he just wanted to have a big family, Reuters reported.
However, Mariam Kukunashvili, the founder of the clinic that recruited Wassana, said that he told her “he wanted to win elections and could use his big family for voting,” according to the AP.
A court statement detailed Shigeta’s plans for the children, saying that they will stay in a house in Tokyo, be cared for by nurses and nannies and attend an international school.
The statement also said Shigeta has fathered children in other countries. It is believed he has further surrogate children in Japan and Cambodia, the AP reported.
After Thailand passed the law banning surrogacy services for foreigners, many of the businesses moved to Cambodia. However, just last year Cambodia followed in its neighbours footsteps and made the practice illegal.