Fugitive Hong Kong-based human-trafficking suspect invested in child-monitoring app

HK-based man has stake in firm behind application to track children

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 August, 2014, 3:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 13 August, 2014, 1:33pm

A Hong Kong-based Japanese man wanted by Thai police for alleged human trafficking invested in an application for mobile devices designed to monitor the movement of children and their family members.

Mitsutoki Shigeta, 24, is a shareholder in Familonet, a Hamburg-based start-up that created an application to automatically alert parents about the movements of their children. Shigeta, who reportedly has a flat in the SoHo district near Central, is believed to own a 4 per cent stake in the company.

There is no evidence linking the app with the human-trafficking accusation that Shigeta is facing.

Following reports about Shigeta, the company said it had "initiated precautionary actions to suspend him as an investor of the company, in case the accusations are confirmed."

Familonet has since taken down photos of the Japanese man from its Facebook site.

Shigeta is wanted by Thai police for suspected involvement in a human-trafficking operation after local officers raided his Bangkok condominium on Tuesday and discovered nine surrogate babies, seven nannies and a pregnant woman.

Thai police suspect that he fathered the children with nine different Thai women in order to sell them.

The Japanese tech investor fled Bangkok for Macau in the early hours of Thursday morning. Authorities do not know where he is now.

His lawyer, Ratthaprathan Tulathorn, denied allegations of human trafficking, but said Shigeta had a further three children in Japan. Shigeta spent nearly HK$50,000 every month to raise the children, the lawyer said.

Records show Shigeta had visited Thailand more than 65 times since 2012. In October that year, he was in Germany for the formal establishment of Familonet. Coincidentally, Familonet's CEO Hauke Windmuller's profile on LinkedIn says he completed a master's degree at a university in Bangkok in 2012.

Surrogacy laws in Thailand are not strictly regulated, making the Southeast Asian nation a popular destination for foreigners seeking such services.

On Friday, Thai police searched the clinic used by Shigeta, but found the premises abandoned and records removed.

The director general of Thailand's Health Service Support Department, Boonruang Trairuangworarat, said the clinic was legally registered, but not certified to perform assisted reproductive operations.

Shigeta's case has dominated headlines across Asia as it comes shortly after reports about an Australian couple accused of abandoning their baby with a Thai surrogate mother after realising the child has Down's syndrome. Adding to the controversy, the pair accepted and took home the baby's healthy twin.

All the major Japanese news outlets have sent reporters to Hong Kong in the wake of Shigeta's story, with many setting up camp outside a residential building in which Shigeta is believed to have a flat.