U.S. Citizen Detained in Tale of Two Companies

2005-05-25
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Apex chairman David Ji with his daughter Jean, on Oct. 10, 2004, shortly before his detention. Photo: Courtesy of Jean Ji

WASHINGTON—A Chinese American businessman whose company is embroiled in a business dispute is being detained at an unknown location in China and forced to sign documents transferring assets—including the family home—to his mainland Chinese partners, relatives say.

David Ji, chairman of the California-based electronics supplier Apex Digital, was first detained by Chinese police during a business trip to the southern city of Shenzhen in late October last year, his daughter Jean Ji told RFA's Mandarin service.

"They forced my father to sign a document of more than 20 pages," Jean Ji told RFA's Investigative Report. "I'm not sure about the details, but the gist of it is the total transfer of all Apex assets to Changhong's control, and the transfer of all his personal property to Changhong."

Since David Ji was detained, his Chinese supplier, Sichuan Changhong Electronic Co., has said that Apex owes it a cumulative total of U.S.$468 million, of which U.S.$150 million might be recoverable.

Changhong has repeatedly denied any connection between Ji's detention and its business relationship with Apex.

Jean Ji also said her father was denied access to crucial medication for high blood-pressure in the early stages of his detention,

"He has been on regular medication for blood-pressure and cholesterol, and also vitamin supplements for his skin problem," Jean Ji said.

No formal notification to family

"Finally, after a long time, he was allowed access to his high blood-pressure medication, but not to five other kinds of medication that he was taking as well," she said, adding that the family still had no knowledge of Ji's exact whereabouts.

"I can't really say for sure where he is being held," she told RFA. "I think that the Chinese government should have informed us if he has been detained. We have had no formal communication from them since he was detained, no letter, nothing."

Asked if the 52-year-old Ji was being held on Changhong premises, the company's in-house legal counsel said the question was ridiculous.

I think that the Chinese government should have informed us that he has been detained. We have had no formal communication from them since he was detained, no letter, nothing.

"You've got to be joking. How can a company detain an individual? That is highly improbable," the Changhong lawyer, identified only by his surname, Wang, told RFA reporter Bai Fan.

"I don't know about this. It's not my case," Wang added.

David Ji's partner in Apex, director of purchasing Frank Ye, has told a U.S. court that police originally wanted to detain both men in Shenzhen and take them to Mianyang City in the southwestern province of Sichuan, where Changhong has its headquarters.

Round-the-clock surveillance

But Ye—who said police produced no identification or legal documentation during the whole detention process—was released in order to keep his company running, he told the court in a sworn statement.

Changhong is suing Apex in a California state court in Los Angeles to recover what it says is owing, after the firms' highly successful business relationship importing cheap television sets and DVD players into the United States hit a major snag.

I got the impression that he had lost all certainty of whether it was day or night, or what time it was.

Jean Ji said her father had sounded subdued and disoriented when he was finally allowed to call home six weeks into his detention and was being watched round-the-clock by police officers.

"There were people with him 24-hours a day, even through the night. I know this because sometimes my father would call us up at 3 or 4 a.m., and my mother would ask him why he was calling at that time, and he said he couldn't sleep, because there was someone in his hotel room watching TV...How could my father get any sleep if they were watching TV in his room?" she told RFA.

"Sometimes I would ask him what time it was there, and I got the impression that he had lost all certainty of whether it was day or night, or what time it was. So I was very worried about this," Ji said.

While lawyers representing Changhong and Apex had been in constant contact since his disappearance, David Ji had been refused access to a lawyer for himself, she said.

Consular visit allowed only later

Sources confirmed to RFA that David Ji was initially assigned a lawyer by Changhong and was only later given access to his own lawyer.

"Changhong has continually denied it had anything to do with my father's detention. I think that's wrong," Ji said. "In those first 30 days my father was denied access to his own lawyer, and yet the lawyers were communicating with each other; it was Changhong's lawyers who made him sign those documents."

You've got to be joking. How can a company detain an individual? That is highly improbable.

"I am absolutely convinced that there is a very close relationship. They can deny that there's a connection between their company and my father's detention, but I don't believe it," she added.

A lawyer acting for David Ji in Washington told RFA that the U.S. Consulate was not informed of his detention initially, although a consular official did visit him later.

Tian Guangyao, an officer in the financial crime detection unit of the Mianyang Public Security Bureau, declined to give details of David Ji's whereabouts or detention. But he acknowledged that he had detained him.

"This case is being dealt with according to law," Tian told RFA. "We will not give you an interview...Don't ask these questions. There are rules about police officers giving interviews to the media."

Police say evidence warranted detention

An official surnamed Wang in the Sichuan provincial public security bureau also confirmed to RFA that Mianyang officers were involved in David Ji's detention, which apparently has taken the form of a residential surveillance limited to six months under Chinese law, after which a suspect must be charged or released.

"We contacted the local provincial public security bureau [in Shenzhen], sent them a message, then our people went down there to work on the case in conjunction with their people, to learn about the case," Wang told RFA's Investigative Report.

"But whether the case was first set up [in Shenzhen], I'm not really sure," he said.

But he said a high-profile businessman such as David Ji would not have been detained casually.

"In a high-profile case like this, a major company in Mianyang City with international connections, then it certainly couldn't proceed in an arbitrary way. There must be evidence [for him to have been detained]," Wang said.

Changhong spokesman Li Haizhong said: "I currently don't have any information available on this. You need to contact our lawyers. They will have access to all the relevant information."

Differences in legal systems

In Part II of RFA's Investigative Report on Apex and Changhong, an employee of Apex Digital's main Chinese supplier, Sichuan Changhong Electronic Co., said he believed that the different operating environments of China and the United States had caused problems in the two companies' business relationship.

"A dispute between two companies like this is a really big problem. For example, with their legal process. The Chinese company might say, well, this is our normal practice, according to the legal process in our country, while the American side would say it is incorrect. So it's going to run into difficulties," the employee, who declined to be identified, told RFA.

But he said that Changhong's claim that Apex owed it more than U.S.$400 million was essentially justified. Changhong is suing Apex in a U.S. court to recover the payments it says is owning, while Apex has filed a counter-suit.

"If you add up the value of all the goods we sent them, minus the value of the payments already made, minus the value of returned goods, it really does add up to that amount," the Changhong employee said.

Original reporting in Mandarin by Bai Fan. RFA Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Translated and produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Original reporting in Mandarin

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