A Thai court on Tuesday granted sole custody of 13 children to a reclusive Japanese businessman who fathered the babies through surrogates, putting an end to a bizarre and controversial legal battle involving the man police called a "baby-factory."
The court case was launched in 2014 after Bangkok Interpol agents discovered nine babies living with nine nannies and little else in a luxury condominium. Authorities, who had been tipped off about the strange circumstances, described the perplexing arrangement to the Associated Press: They found the children, aged between two weeks and two years old, living in a virtually empty and unfurnished apartment. Among the few belongings were bouncy chairs, playpens, diapers and baby bottles.
The situation raised alarms for officials who worried they'd stumbled onto a human trafficking ring or some other form of child exploitation.
"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, told the AP at the time.
"We are trying to understand what kind of person makes this many babies," he said.
The man behind the parenting controversy is Mitsutoki Shigeta, an unmarried, now 28 year-old son of a Japanese IT billionaire.
In addition to the 9 babies discovered in the Bangkok apartment, police learned that Shigeta had an additional four Thai children and three more in India. It is believed that the number of children Shigeta has fathered is 20.
The Telegraph reported Shigeta, a notoriously private man who was not charged with any crime, quickly left Thailand after officials removed the children from his care and the press got hold of the investigation. He then sued Thailand's Ministry of Social Development and Human Security for custody of all 13 Thai children.
The Bangkok Central Juvenile and Family Court decided to return the children to Shigeta as the sole parent, "ruling that he is financially stable and had showed his plans to care for them," according to the Washington Post.
It also determined Shigeta did not demonstrate behavior linking him to human trafficking.
Shigeta was absent from court but has said through his lawyer that he comes from a large family and simply wanted one of his own. Plus, he has the means to support it.
In 2014 the AP reported:
"The founder of a multinational fertility clinic that provided Shigeta with two surrogate mothers said she warned Interpol about him even before the first baby was born in June 2013.
"'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 in a telephone interview from Mexico."
At one point Shigeta told Kukunashvili 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."
In all he hired 11 Thai surrogate mothers to carry his children.
A sidewalk food vendor who was recruited to carry one of the Shigeta babies through an online service was interviewed by the AP and described him as "tall with shaggy, shoulder-length hair, and dressed casually in jeans and a wrinkled, button-down shirt he left untucked."
"He didn't say anything to me," she told the reporter, adding that she was paid $10,000. "He never introduced himself. He only smiled and nodded. His lawyer did the talking."
The case against the prolific baby maker is one of several scandals involving surrogate mothers that have led to the end to what was called the "rent-a-womb" industry in Thailand, which was previously unregulated. As of 2015 foreigners are barred from paying for Thai surrogates.
The Washington Post says Shigeta plans to send the children to an international school and has bought a piece of land to house them next to a large park in central Tokyo, where they will be looked after by nurses and nannies.