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Alleged Chinese Product Counterfeiter Jumps Bail, Flees UK

The head of a Chinese company accused of product counterfeiting failed to show up in a London court Thursday where a final ruling was scheduled on a U.S. request to extradite him on charges of violating intellectual property rights. Businessman Yuan Hongwei fled Britain for China, forfeiting his bail and passport in a case that has drawn international attention. More from VOA's Bill Rodgers.

An angry British judge issued a warrant for Yuan Hongwei's arrest after he failed to show up in a London court Thursday for what was scheduled to be a final ruling on his extradition case. Yuan, who was detained by British authorities at Heathrow airport in September, had posted bail and had his passport seized. His bail of some $200,000 has been forfeited.

Yuan had shown up for previous court hearings to fight a U.S. extradition request on charges of violating U.S. trademark laws. He and his chemical firm, Hunan Magic Power Industrial Company, are accused of producing and selling chemical products such as adhesives and lubricants under the brand name of an American company, ABRO Industries, without a license. The U.S.-based export company says it has lost tens of millions of dollars over the years from the sale of these counterfeit products around the world.

The southern U.S. state of Louisiana issued a warrant for Yuan's arrest in 2006, when it seized a shipment of fake ABRO products made by Hunan Magic. The U.S. Justice Department cited that warrant when it asked Britain to arrest and extradite the Chinese businessman when he arrived in London.

ABRO President Peter Baranay expressed disappointment with Thursday's turn of events, but said Yuan Hongwei's actions could end up damaging China's reputation.

"This may be a short-lived victory for [Yuan] Hongwei but we feel it is fundamentally a great loss to China and China's future within the global community," Baranay said. "The world expects people to behave in a certain fashion within the rules and regulations that the global community has set and clearly this man continues to disregard that."

For his part, Yuan released an open letter upon his return to China, accusing the United States and ABRO of setting up a trap for his arrest and violating his human rights. He also thanked the Chinese government and public for their support, in a case that had gained some attention in China because of its international ramifications on the issue of intellectual property rights.

If the London judge had ruled against Yuan Hongwei, he would have been the first Chinese national to be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating intellectual property rights.

Despite feeling frustrated over the missed opportunity, Baranay says there's a lesson to be learned from the case.

"ABRO has, I think, creatively gone after counterfeiters in new ways and has showed other American companies and other global companies that whether or not you're being attacked by a Chinese counterfeiter, or counterfeiters in other countries, there are ways to protect yourself," he said.

Baranay adds ABRO will continue to seek legal action against the businessman, both in China and internationally.