It's been 10 months since the chief executive of Ontario-based electronics importer Apex Digital Inc. was detained on a business trip to China. And he's still stuck there.


Chinese police detained David Longfen Ji last October in the southern city of Shenzhen, amid an investigation related to Apex's Chinese supplier, state-owned Sichuan Changhong Electric Co.


Sichuan Changhong reported heavy losses last year, blaming Apex for $468 million in unpaid invoices on television sets already shipped to the U.S. Apex referred to the discrepancy as a "business misunderstanding," while the Chinese government is calling it fraud.


Changhong sued Apex in L.A. Superior Court in January, claiming that Apex missed the first two payments of a repayment plan put in place in October. A trial is under way while the investigation continues in China.


Chief Operating Officer Ankle Hsu has been running Apex in Ji's absence. An Apex official said the chief executive, a U.S. citizen who was born in China, is "still being held hostage."


Chinese news agencies reported last week that as collateral for its unpaid bills, Changhong took over a $41 million stake in a Hong Kong-listed company, China Data Broadcasting Holdings, which is held by Ji and Apex.


Apex says Ji was coerced under threat of physical harm to sign over the 70 percent stake in China Data Broadcasting, a charge Changhong denied, according to the news reports.


Apex has 116 employees in its 36,000-square-foot headquarters in Ontario, and was a leading importer of low-cost televisions and DVD players sold in Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Circuit City Inc. and Best Buy Inc. Apex is not selling television sets in the U.S., but continues to sell DVD players.


Lord of Ringtones
Movie theaters are dragging people in by their cell phones.


Twentieth Century Fox and Loews Cineplex Entertainment Corp. have added free wireless downloads through Bluetooth wireless stations at the movies. People with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones can download ringtones, wallpaper and movie trailers for free at Loews.


The studio wants viewers to take these images and show them to their friends a way to spread the advertising buck. The service is in a two-month test at Loews Universal Citywalk Theater, and at two other theaters in San Francisco and L.A.


A Loews spokesman said the stations have processed several hundred downloads per week for Fox films "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Fantastic Four." Loews is in talks to get other studios involved and to bring the program out of the test phase in L.A. with upcoming movies.


Bluetooth is a short-range wireless signal, originally developed by Telefon AB LM Ericsson. Enabled cell phones can pick up the signal within 30 feet of the station.


The download stations are placed in the lobby of the theaters, not in the seating area, according to Krista Van Lewen of WideRay Corp., the San Francisco-based company that built the stations. "We don't want to be encouraging people to be playing with their cell phones while the movie's going on," Lewen said.


Northwest Passage
Microsoft Corp. acquired Marina del Rey-based e-mail filtering company FrontBridge Technologies Inc.


FrontBridge's software offers anti-spam, anti-virus, e-mail archiving and encryption service on a subscription basis to more than 3,000 business customers worldwide. Its hosted servers filter e-mail before it hits the client's server.


Microsoft has been trying to close security holes that leave users of its Windows platform vulnerable to unwanted e-mails and hackers who send viruses through the Internet.


FrontBridge has 110 employees at its headquarters, and another 50 or so sprinkled through offices in Paris, London and Winnipeg, Canada.


Neither company has said how many employees would be moving to Redmond, Wash., where Microsoft is located.


FrontBridge raised $28 million in venture capital funding over the past four years.


Swedish Shopping
ValueClick Inc., based in Westlake Village, has launched its own comparison-shopping site in the U.S., called PriceRunner. ValueClick acquired the Swedish-based PriceRunner for $29 million a year ago. Looking to compete with Shopping.com, Shopzilla and PriceGrabber.com, PriceRunner offers consumers comparison shopping on clothing, accessories, appliances, sports and outdoor equipment, toys and electronics.


Comparison shopping sites earn a fee each time a consumer clicks through one of its listings to a retailer. Sites often let companies bid for the highest ranking in a list of products.


PriceRunner wants to differentiate itself from the competition by always presenting the lowest-priced item first, regardless of the fee it receives from the retailer, according to spokesman Gary Fuges. The company also employs actual, human "price runners" who visit stores to gather pricing information.


Since June, ValueClick's competition has gotten a lot bigger: Shopzilla was acquired by E.W. Scripps Co. for $525 million, while eBay Inc. acquired Shopping.com for $620 million.


*Staff Reporter Hilary Potkewitz can be reached by e-mail at hpotkewitz@labusinessjournal.com or by phone at 323-549-5225 ext. 226.

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