Who exactly is Mitsutoki Shigeta? Almost two weeks after a raid on a condominium in Lad Phrao revealed what authorities described as a "baby factory", details remain scant about the 24-year-old Japanese businessman's background and why he wanted to father more than a dozen children to surrogate mothers.
Mr Shigeta has fled the country, boarding a flight to Macau shortly after the raid, and has not been seen since.
He has now been linked to 15 babies born to surrogate mothers in Thailand, and is also believed to have engaged surrogates in India. At least three of the infants born here have already been taken out of the country, their whereabouts unknown.
In the past week, claims have arisen that Mr Shigeto was planning to father more than a dozen children to surrogate mothers every year as part of a vaguely defined plan to generate an army of loyal "voters" to help him secure an election win in Japan.
Police say there's still no evidence to suggest Mr Shigeto was trafficking children, but remain eager to track him down for questioning so they can piece together his motives.
Surrogacy agents who dealt with Mr Shigeto describe an unusual man who was persistent with his demands for more babies. For the women who were paid hundreds of thousands of baht to carry Mr Shigeto's children, the businessman remained mostly aloof but appeared to be a polite and normal person.
JUST A REGULAR PERSON
A woman identifying herself only as "Pat" carried one of the nine children recovered from the raid on Mr Shigeta's condominium.
The 21-year-old said she was approached by an agent last year who told her a couple needed a baby and was willing to pay her 19,000 baht a month during her pregnancy as well as a lump-sum payment of 300,000 baht.
Pat said she had no personal dealings with Mr Shigeta until she went for an ultrasound during her second month of pregnancy. The businessman was dressed in casual attire — shorts and T-shirt — but revealed no details about himself or his background.
Pat did not see Mr Shigeta again until she was seven months pregnant. He came to the clinic to arrange some paperwork while she was having a routine check-up. The two did not talk.
Pat gave birth to a baby boy in August last year. Mr Shigeta accompanied her during the labour, and afterwards took her to the Lad Phrao condo. She stayed there with the babies for the next four days, but has not seen the children, or Mr Shigeta, since.
Pat seemed wary about offering information when being contacted on the phone. She told Bangkok Post Sunday only briefly about Mr Shigeta’s character.
“He is very normal," she said. "I wouldn't say he’s mean or kind. He’s just like a regular person.”
Last Monday, Ratthapratarn Tulatorn, a former police officer and legal representative of Mr Shigeta, failed to front the media as promised at Wang Thong Lang Police Station. It soon became apparent that Mr Ratthapratarn had withdrawn from the case, though the circumstances of his severing ties with Mr Shigeta were unclear.
At this stage, the Japanese businessman does not face any criminal charges. Authorities from the Metropolitan Police Bureau as well as the Ministry of Health say that surrogacy and human trafficking are two separate issues, and they were still trying to piece together Mr Shigeta's motives for fathering so many children.
A chief investigator at Lad Phrao Police Station revealed that a man named Samran Pasaney, who works with Mr Ratthapratarn, was now supplying information relating to the case to police.
It came after authorities discovered Mr Samran, 41, had signed the rental contract for the room at Niche ID Condominium where the nine babies were found during the raid on Aug 5.
They also reported that Mr Samran owns a house in the same area. Listed on Mr Samran's household registration documents are 21 infants, most of whom appear to have already been taken out of the country.
The Lad Phrao investigator said the nine nannies found living in the Lad Phrao condominium with the babies were interviewed last week.
All told police they had met Mr Shigeta in person and said he took good care of the babies and seemed to want to play with them when he visited.
The investigator said the nannies are all from the northern provinces of Prae, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Mr Samran is listed as a resident in Amphoe Song in Prae Province. The investigator said one of the nannies is Mr Samran’s mother.
Bangkok Post Sunday made repeated attempts to contact both Mr Ratthapratarn and Mr Samran in the past week, but received no response.
'WANTED TO WIN AN ELECTION'
Perhaps the biggest question in the Shigeta case — and the one which will determine whether human trafficking charges are laid — is the motive for him wanting so many children.
On Thursday morning, the Bangkok Post revealed fertility agency All Life Thailand had provided Mr Shigeta with two surrogate mothers last year.
Although saying she had never met Mr Shigeta in person, All Life's Georgian co-founder, Mariam Kukunashvili, suggested her staff had painted him as a man showing signs of mental imbalance.
When questioned about his motives for fathering so many children, she said Mr Shigeta’s initial response was "so that he could have a big family for voting … [and] win an election in Japan”.
Ms Kukunashvili said Mr Shigeta also wanted to buy equipment to freeze his sperm at home, a request that was denied due to the dangers of storing liquid nitrogen.
"We served Shigeta one time only and then he demanded he wanted more and more babies," Ms Kukunashvili said.
"I immediately found it suspicious, especially for a man of his age, and we refused to further serve him and warned Interpol, the BBC, CNN and the Japanese embassy."
On Thursday evening, All Life Thailand was shut down after a raid by authorities.
Whatever Mr Shigeta's motives for fathering so many children, it seems money is an unlikely factor. The 24-year-old is rumoured to be the son of Japanese billionaire Yasumitsu Shigeta, founder of mobile phone distribution company Hikari Tsushin Inc.
Mr Yasumitsu was once one of the world's richest men before losing much of his fortune in the dotcom crash. He has since restored at least some of his former US$42 billion wealth, and now sits at No 16 on Japan's rich list.
A Mitsutoki Shigeta is named as a shareholder in Hikari Tsushin, but it has not been possible to confirm if it is the same person tied to the surrogacy case.
A Mitsutoki Shigeta is also listed as the director of five companies in Cambodia, most of them dealing with import/export or property.
Mr Shigeta, who is believed to hold Cambodian and Chinese passports, reportedly owns a luxury apartment in Hong Kong, where he also has numerous business interests.
Media reports last week revealed Mr Shigeta held a minor stake in a company which developed a mobile app designed to monitor the movement of children. Familonet, a Hamburg-based start-up, has since sought to distance itself from the Japanese investor, suspending Mr Shigeta as a precautionary measure, according to the South China Morning Post.
A letter has reportedly been sent to major Japanese media outlets by a prominent lawyer in Japan warning them not to report on the case, particularly any details which might reveal Mr Shigeta's identity.
In a press conference in Bangkok yesterday, assistant police chief Kokiat Wongworachart said Thai officials will soon travel to Cambodia after an "adviser" to Mr Shigeta invited them to see how well four children apparently fathered by the man are being raised there.
The adviser has reportedly sent police photographs of the children showing they are in good health.
According to immigration records, Mr Shigeta travelled to Thailand more than 40 times, many of those across the border from Cambodia, and on at least some occasions he left the country with children.
Bangkok deputy police chief Chayuth Thanataweerat said an explanation from the businessman would go a long way to reassuring both the authorities and the public that all the children are wanted and that the man is prepared to take care of all of them.
Pol Maj Gen Chayuth admitted Thailand has little power to deal with the man, but "several channels" are being used to obtain information about him.