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China Says Toy Company Boss Killed Himself

The head of a Chinese toy manufacturing company at the center of a huge U.S. recall has committed suicide, a state-run newspaper said Monday.

Zhang Shuhong, who ran the Lee Der Industrial Co. Ltd, killed himself at a warehouse over the weekend, days after China said it had temporarily banned exports by the company, the Southern Metropolis Daily said.

Lee Der made 967,000 toys recalled earlier this month by Mattel Inc. because they were made with paint found to have excessive amounts of lead. The plastic preschool toys, sold under the Fisher-Price brand in the U.S., included the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters.

An official who answered the telephone at Lee Der on Monday said he had not heard of the news.

The suicide comes less than a week after Mattel's announcement identifying Lee Der Industrial, in Guangdong province, as the manufacturer of the toys, which were sold under the Fisher-Price brand in the United States between May and August.

Mattel, the world's largest toy maker, at that time apologized to customers for the recall and said the move would cut pretax operating income by $30 million.

Mattel spokeswoman Jules Andres said on August 7th that all the toys that were recalled were made by the one vendor and that the company has "ceased accepting shipments from the facility."

She added that Mattel has shared the name of the vendor with competitors who may also be doing business with the Chinese company.

The Mattel spokeswoman said she did not know what other toys might have been made at the facility for other companies, but stressed that Mattel felt it was important for its competitors to have the information.

"We do not consider safety to be a competitive advantage," she said.

The Chinese vendor could not immediately be reached for comment. A man at a Lee Der Industrial Company in Guangdong province said it made cardboard boxes, not toys, while a woman who answered the phone at another number listed under the name said that company had gone bankrupt several years ago.

The Fisher-Price recall is the latest in a string of problems involving products imported from China.

In June, RC2 Corp. recalled 1.5 million wooden railroad toys and set parts from its Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway product line because of lead paint. Those toys were also made in China.

Earlier this year, a Chinese-made pet food ingredient was linked to the deaths of cats and dogs in North America. Since then, Chinese goods ranging from toothpaste to tires have been banned or recalled in numerous countries.