August 13, 2007 at 12:37 AM EDT
BEIJING — — The head of a Chinese toy manufacturing company at the centre of a huge North American 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 announced 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, included the popular Big Bird, Elmo, Dora and Diego characters.
The newspaper said that a supplier, Mr. Zhang's best friend, sold Lee Der fake paint that was used in the toys.
"The boss and the company were harmed by the paint supplier, the closest friend of our boss," a manager surnamed Liu was quoted as saying.
Mr. Liu said Mr. Zhang hung himself on Saturday, according to the report. It is common for disgraced officials to commit suicide in China.
A company official who answered the telephone at the Lee Der factory in the southern city of Foshan on Monday said he had not heard of the news. A man at Lee Der's main office in Hong Kong said the company was not accepting interviews and hung up.
The recall by El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel came just two months after RC2 Corp., a New York company, recalled 1.5 million Chinese-made wooden railroad toys and set parts from its Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway product line because of lead paint.
The maker, Hansheng Wood Products Factory, also was included in the export ban announced Thursday by the General Administration for Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, one of China's quality watchdogs.
The administration also ordered both companies to evaluate and change their business practices.
Lead poisoning can cause vomiting, anemia and learning difficulties. In extreme cases, it can cause severe neurological damage and death.
The quality watchdog also said police were investigating two companies' use of "fake plastic pigment" but did not give any details. Such pigments are a type of industrial latex usually used to increase surface gloss and smoothness.
Chinese companies often have long supply chains, making it difficult to trace the exact origin of components, chemicals and food additives.
The toy recalls were among the largest in recent months involving Chinese products, which have come under fire for containing potentially dangerous high levels of chemicals and toxins.