Cybercrime police have cracked down on an illegal transnational surrogacy ring disguised as a cleaning company.
The officers acted after discovering that surrogate mothers were unable to deliver surrogate children to their parents overseas due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The authorities raided 10 locations involved in the illegal transnational surrogacy network in and around Bangkok, arresting three surrogate agents and four Thai surrogate mothers.
Leading the media conference were deputy public health minister Sathit Pitutecha, CCIB commissioner Pol Lt Gen Kornchai Klayklueng, Tares Krassanairawiwong, director-general of the Health Service Support Department, and Leonard Mancuso, United States embassy attache.
Pol Lt Gen Kornchai said that the CCIB had launched its raid in collaboration with the Department of Special Investigation (DSI) and others agencies, such as the US embassy in Thailand, after receiving key information from the Health Service Support Department.
The illegal surrogacy network had used social media to recruit Thai surrogate mothers, paying them more than 500,000 baht each, he said.
Moreover, the network escaped detection by disguising itself as a cleaning company and managed to operate in Thailand for many years.
The gang would cultivate embryos in Cambodia and the surrogate mothers would then return to Thailand and stay here until they gave birth, said Pol Lt Gen Kornchai.
Usually, the surrogate mothers would then hand over the babies to their parents overseas but the coronavirus pandemic had prevented them from doing so.
A premature baby aged just four months was reportedly born to one of the network’s surrogate mother hired by the network and has since been admitted to Ramathibodi Hospital for multiple problems, including a brain haemorrhage.
Police found many other Thai surrogate mothers had travelled abroad for embryo cultivation.
Two infants, aged six months and eight months, and two Filipino people hired to take care of them were found during police raids. DNA tests showed that their father was Chinese.
The suspects face charges in accordance with the Protection of Children Born by Assisted Reproductive Technology in Medical Science Act BE 2558 and the Anti-Participation in Transnational Organised Crime Act BE 2556.
Dr Tares said illegal surrogacy was popular in Thailand because of the country’s readiness in terms of medical equipment and personnel.
There are 102 legal surrogacy clinics and 400 couples who can have a surrogate child in Thailand, according to Dr Tares.
Couples eligible to have a surrogate child must be Thai. If one of them is not Thai, they must have been married for ore than three years and the surrogacy must be administered by a certified clinic, he added.
Any medical facility involved in illegal surrogacy faces severe punishment, including the revocation of its licence.
Any physicians found to be involved face both professional and legal action, said Dr Tares.
Another illegal surrogacy gang was also busted in Thailand last year, resulting in many arrests, including Thai and Chinese nationals.
The Chinese accused denied any wrongdoing but police insisted they had sufficient evidence to prosecute them for involvement in the transnational surrogacy gang.
The Thais were accused of colluding with a transnational criminal association, arranging illegal commercial surrogacy and advertising an illegal surrogacy broker service.