Aussie father of Thailand-born surrogate baby accused of trying to get cash donated to boy

SYDNEY (AFP) - The Australian biological father of a Thailand-born Down syndrome baby who sparked a global debate over surrogacy was on Tuesday accused of trying to access money donated to help the boy.

Mr David Farnell, a convicted sex offender, and his wife Wendy Li made international headlines last year when they were accused of abandoning baby Gammy in Thailand with his surrogate mother because of his condition. They took his healthy twin sister Pipah back to their Perth home.

The scandal led to an outpouring of support for Gammy, with more than A$235,000 (S$249,000) donated from well-wishers worldwide.

Gammy lives with his Thai surrogate mother Pattaramon Chanbua outside Bangkok and the charity Hands Across the Water, which handles the donated money, said Mr Farnell was trying to access it. "Hands Across the Water was made aware several weeks ago that the Farnells were taking action in relation to accessing the Baby Gammy Special Appeal Fund," the group's founder and chairman Peter Baines said in a statement. "We have no information as to the justification the Farnells, or their legal team, are making to support the application for access to the funds."

He added that the charity would do all it could to defend the action "to ensure the money donated remains for the care of baby Gammy, which we believe was the intent of those who so generously donated the funds".

In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Ms Pattaramon, who was paid to carry the twins, said she was shocked by the attempt to access the money.

"He does not deserve or have any rights to the fund as he abandoned Gammy in the first place," she said.

"People donated money for Gammy and not for anyone else. Even though I am Gammy's mother, I don't have any right to take it. I want to ask him: 'Who do you think you are? What made you think you have the right to take it?'"

The Farnells were not available for comment.

They previously denied abandoning the boy, claiming they had wanted to bring him home and left Thailand fearing the surrogate mother would also seize their daughter.

Since the scandal erupted, Gammy, who turned one in December and has been granted Australian citizenship, has moved into a new home in Chonburi province about 90km south-east of Bangkok, using money donated by Hands Across the Water.

The charity also makes monthly payments to cover his ongoing medical and welfare needs.

Commercial surrogacy is illegal in Australia, prompting growing numbers of infertile couples to head overseas to fulfil their dreams of having a family.

Debate over the legal and moral issues raised by Gammy saw Thailand pass a law this year banning foreign couples from using Thai women as surrogates.