A THAI court has granted legal custody of 13 babies carried by surrogate mothers to a secretive Japanese millionaire who is their biological father, reviving a bizarre tale that captured tabloid headlines four years ago.

Mitsutoki Shigeta’s case sparked concern in 2014 when police raided a Bangkok flat and found nine babies and nine nannies living in unfurnished rooms.

It was found Mr Shigeta had fathered the children using Thai surrogate mothers. The case, along with several others, helped usher in a Thai law banning commercial surrogacy for foreign clients.

Bangkok’s Central Juvenile and Family Court gave Mr Shigeta legal custody of the children, ruling that he is financially stable and had showed his plans to care for them.

The ruling said Mr Shigeta had a right to custody because the children were born before the new law was brought in, and because the surrogate mothers signed documents waiving their custody rights.

Mr Shigeta, who has kept an extremely low profile, did not attend the court’s sessions, which ended yesterday, and had a lawyer represent him.

Mr Shigeta is the son of an owner of a Japanese company and earns over 100 million baht ($3.1 million) in annual dividends, which shows he is financially capable of looking after the children, the court said in a statement.

It said DNA evidence confirmed that Mr Shigeta is the children’s father, and that he plans to send the children to an international school and has bought a piece of land to house them next to a large park in central Tokyo, where they will be looked after by nurses and nannies.

The court also said Mr Shigeta had opened bank accounts in Singapore for all 13 children whose custody he was awarded yesterday. Reports in the Thai media in 2014 said he had fathered 16 children in Thailand, but the court’s decision mentioned only 13.

The court’s statement did little to lift the veil of mystery over Mr Shigeta, who had minimal contact with the surrogates. After his case made headlines, a group of prominent lawyers sent letters warning Japan’s mainstream media not to report Mr Shigeta’s name or the names of his family members, according to news organisations that received the letter.

Several Japanese magazines and online publications nonetheless identified him as a son of Japanese tycoon Yasumitsu Shigeta, founder and chief executive officer of the Japanese communications and technology company Hikari Tsushin.

In 2014, a woman who was recruited through an online advertisement to be one of his surrogates recalled meeting Mr Shigeta for the first time two months after giving birth at the fertility clinic that arranged the deal, for which she was paid $10,000.

She described him in an interview as tall, with shaggy, shoulder-length hair, and dressed casually in jeans and a wrinkled, button-down shirt he left untucked.

The woman, who asked to be called by the pseudonym “Wassana” to avoid embarrassment to her family, said his lawyer accompanied him to the meeting, where she and Mr Shigeta signed a document granting him sole custody.

“He didn’t say anything to me,” said Wassana, a pavement food seller who took on the surrogacy job to help pay her rent. “He never introduced himself. He only smiled and nodded. His lawyer did the talking.”

When public interest in the case became intense, Mr Shigeta said through a lawyer that he simply wanted a big family. But Mariam Kukunashvili, founder of the New Light clinic that recruited Wassana, said he told her “he wanted to win elections and could use his big family for voting”.

“He said he wanted 10 to 15 babies a year, and that he wanted to continue the baby-making process until he’s dead,” Ms Kukunashvili said in 2014.

Wassana’s doctor, Pisit Tantiwattanakul, told the Medical Council of Thailand – which was concerned that there had been ethical breaches in the case – that Mr Shigeta said he had businesses overseas and wanted a large family because he trusted only his own children to take care of them.

According to yesterday’s court statement, Mr Shigeta has taken care of other children, born from surrogacy, and raised them in Japan and Cambodia, where they were well looked after. The children that he cared for in Japan now all have Japanese citizenship, it said.

It is unclear where the children raised in Cambodia are now. Cambodia inherited much of the surrogacy-for-hire business for foreigners after Thailand banned it, but later passed its own law against it.

The court said Mr Shigeta did not show behaviour linking him to human trafficking, which had been a concern when his story was originally revealed.

This article first appeared in our sister title, USA Today.