BANGKOK: Seven Thai surrogates and two Chinese nationals were arrested on Thursday (Feb 13) in Bangkok in a police raid that is believed to have busted the biggest criminal organisation of commercial surrogacy in Thailand to date.
Known as Operation Stop Child Born, the investigation commenced in May last year following tipoffs from various agencies. Ten arrest warrants were issued for 10 suspects. Nine of them were arrested in the Thursday raid while the other one was detained in China for human trafficking.
“We were informed that the suspects are in Thailand today and conducted search operations at targeted locations,” said Pol Maj Gen Torsak Sukvimol, deputy commissioner of the Central Investigation Bureau.
“As a result, we managed to save so many lives. This is a transnational crime – trafficking in persons.”
Foreigners are prohibited by Thai law from paying Thai women for surrogacy.
According to police, the criminal network is headed by non-Thai nationals. Their operation involves various countries and used to be based in Thailand before the Protection of a Child Born by Medically Assisted Reproductive Technology Act was introduced in 2015.
“Before the surrogacy law came into effect, their operation took place in Thailand, including embryo implantation, pregnancy, prenatal care and child delivery," said Pol Maj Gen Worawat Watnakornbancha, chief of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division.
"But once the law came out in 2015, the operation changed. Embryo implantation now takes place in neighbouring countries while prenatal care continues in Thailand and child delivery at the country of destination, which makes it hard to crackdown."
Besides the nine arrested, police also found two babies in Operation Stop Child Born. One of them is 22 days old while the other is four months old. Their carers do not know who their parents are, according to Pol Maj Gen Worawat.
“The operation has helped children who have no idea where they would end up.”
The search operations took place at ten locations in Thailand, including Bangkok. Police managed to gather further evidence and confiscated assets, which would be taken care of by the Anti-Money Laundering Office.
Most of the arrested have pleaded guilty but some of them denied any wrongdoing.
According to police, they were charged under the Protection of a Child Born by Medically Assisted Reproductive Technology Act and the Prevention and Suppression of Participation in Transnational Organised Crime Act.
“We’ll conduct further investigation into the network,” said Pol Maj Gen Worawat.
“There could be a lot more female victims hired as surrogates.”