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International police seeking clues to Thailand's 'baby factory'

BANGKOK -- Interpol said it has launched a multinational investigation into what Thailand has dubbed the “Baby Factory” case: a 24-year-old Japanese businessman who has 16 surrogate babies and an alleged desire to father hundreds more.

Police raided a Bangkok condominium 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 diapers. 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,” said Thailand's Interpol director, police Maj. Gen. Apichart Suribunya. “We are trying to understand what kind of person makes this many babies.”

Apichart said that regional Interpol offices in Japan, Cambodia, Hong Kong and India have been asked to probe Shigeta's background, beginning last week. Police say he appears to have registered businesses or apartments in those countries and has frequently traveled there.

“We are looking into two motives. One is human trafficking and the other is exploitation of children,” said police Lt. Gen. Kokiat Wongvorachart, Thailand's lead investigator in the case. He said Shigeta made 41 trips to Thailand since 2010. On many occasions he traveled to nearby Cambodia, where he brought four of his babies.

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 Aug. 5 raid on the condominium and has said through a lawyer that he simply wanted a large family and has the means to support it.

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

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.

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In this Aug. 12 photo, Thai police display pictures of surrogate babies born to a Japanese man who is at the center of a surrogacy scandal during a press conference at the police headquarters in Chonburi, Thailand. (AP)

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