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Foxconn official says employee had suspicious history

After a Foxconn employee allegedly committed suicide when an iPhone prototype vanished, an official with the Chinese manufacturing company said the former employee had demonstrated a pattern of suspiciously losing products.

Speaking with The New York Times, James Lee, general manager of China operations, said the employee's explanation for the missing phone did not seem credible.

“Several times he had some products missing, then he got them back,” Lee said. “We don’t know who took the product, but it was at his stop.”

A Times reporter was given a tour of the Chinese company's facilities, but was not allowed to see the assembly line to protect trade secrets. When the reporter spoke with employees outside of the company's control, one of about 15 admitted they were forced to work overtime beyond the legal limit.

Sun Danyong allegedly killed himself after a prototype he was responsible for — reportedly a fourth-generation iPhone — went missing. Prior to his death, friends said he told them he was subjected to "unbearable interrogation techniques" by Foxconn employees, leading some to believe he was beaten. Sun reportedly had his property seized and was held in solitary confinement before he jumped from a 12-story building last week.

The Times also reported that Foxconn paid Sun's family a settlement of about $44,000 and an Apple laptop computer. As a translator spoke to the family last week, a security guard, joined by two men in Foxconn shirts, threatened the translator and told them to stop asking the family questions. Foxconn officials later said the person was not on their staff.

When the story of Sun's death first began to spread, Apple issued a response.

"We are saddened by the tragic loss of this young employee and we are awaiting results of the investigations into his death," an Apple spokesperson said. "We require our suppliers to treat all workers with dignity and respect."

Industry experts overseas have said it is unlikely that Apple will end its manufacturing partnership with Foxconn.

The alleged suicide is one of numerous scandals that has hurt the Chinese company's image. Apple audited Foxconn in 2006 after reports surfaced in a British newspaper about supposed poor working conditions in the Chinese factories. And this month, the company's foreign factories , as a new investigation found that 45 of the 83 factories that built iPhones and iPods in 2008 weren't paying valid overtime rates, and 23 weren't even paying some of their workers China's minimum wage.