A Thai court has ruled in favour of a wealthy Japanese man who fathered 13 surrogate children through Thai mothers, naming him their legal parent and sole guardian.
The Central Juvenile Court determined the 28-year-old man is the biological father of the children and found him capable of raising them because he is the founder and president of a company listed on a stock market.
In August 2014, Thai authorities stormed the Bangkok condo of Japanese millionaire Mitsutoki Shigeta to find one baby, then another and another, until they counted nine surrogate babies in all, each accompanied by a nanny.
The court also found that the man, who currently lives in Japan, plans to bring all his children - now around 4 years old - to his home country where it says he plans to enroll them in an global school and open bank accounts for them.
Shigeta's freakish case threw a spotlight on the kingdom's unregulated rent-a-womb industry, prompting authorities to bar foreigners in 2015 from paying for Thai surrogates.
The children are still in state custody, and the man is in talks with the Social Development and Human Security Ministry about the next steps.
Shigeta, who did not attend the trial in person, was deemed the "sole parent" of the children after the Thai surrogates had signed away their rights, the court said. Mariam Kukunashvili, founder of the global clinic, told the Associated Press in 2014 that Shigeta submitted requests for new mothers soon after others became pregnant.More news: Abbas, Haley spar over Israel at Security Council meeting
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Shigeta hired the Thai surrogates before the ban on foreigners.
The court was told Shigeta now plans to take the children to Japan, where he and his family have already bought a piece of land near a big public park in Tokyo to build a house. His lawyer, Kong Suriyamonthol, also refuted the allegations and said Shigeta had grown up in an extended family and had always wanted a large family of his own following which he was given parental rights of three of his children in 2015.
The court gave no further details about the man, but said he plans to raise the 13 children, all aged about four, in Japan where he lives, adding that he had previously raised other surrogate children in Cambodia and Japan.
Vitat Techabun, the Director-General of Thailand's Department of Children and Youth, told reporters that government officials would help ease the children's transition to their new living arrangements, and conduct regular checks to safeguard their welfare.
The mothers were paid as much as $12,500 each to carry his children, reports said.
Surrogacy agencies quickly migrated to neighbouring Cambodia, who followed suit and barred the industry in 2016.
In the past few months there have been signs the business is growing in Laos, an opaque communist country with no restrictions on surrogacy.