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MarketScreener Homepage  >  Equities  >  Nyse  >  FedEx Corporation    FDX

FEDEX CORPORATION

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U.S. Pilot For FedEx Is Detained In China -- WSJ

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09/20/2019 | 02:49am EDT

By John Lyons and Wenxin Fan

HONG KONG -- Chinese authorities have detained a FedEx Corp. pilot in the southern city of Guangzhou, elevating pressure on the express shipping giant that is already in Beijing's crosshairs amid a U.S.-China trade war.

The pilot, a former U.S. Air Force colonel named Todd A. Hohn, was detained a week ago while waiting for a commercial flight to his home in Hong Kong after flying deliveries throughout Asia from the FedEx regional hub in Guangzhou, people familiar with the matter said.

A lawyer for the Hohn family in Niceville, Fla., confirmed that Mr. Hohn had been detained in China. He was a wing commander at the Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma until 2017.

Reached briefly at his hotel room Thursday, Mr. Hohn identified himself to a reporter and then referred all questions to a family lawyer and discontinued the phone call. He is married and a father, the people familiar with the matter said.

When he was detained, Mr. Hohn was carrying nonmetallic pellets used in low-power replica air guns in a checked bag, the people said. Chinese authorities have alleged that Mr. Hohn was illegally transporting ammunition and have begun a criminal investigation, the people said.

Like many FedEx pilots working in the region, Mr. Hohn commutes to the Guangzhou hub from his home in Hong Kong. Border police have been checking bags of travelers between Hong Kong and the mainland as pro-democracy protests rocking the city have turned increasingly violent.

Mr. Hohn was detained Sept. 12 by Chinese security officials, who escorted him from a preboarding executive lounge, interviewed him and retained his passport, cellphone and other communication devices, the people said.

Mr. Hohn has been told he isn't allowed to leave mainland China until the investigation concludes, the people familiar with the matter said.

"Chinese authorities in Guangzhou detained and later released one of our pilots on bail after an item was found in his luggage prior to a commercial flight," FedEx said in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. "We are working with the appropriate authorities to gain a better understanding of the facts."

Mr. Hohn was detained as he was waiting to board a flight with Cathay Dragon, a subsidiary of Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. The airline has come under increased scrutiny by Chinese authorities after some of its employees took part in demonstrations in Hong Kong or voiced support online for the opposition movement.

Chinese police at Guangzhou airport said they haven't detained any Americans since September 12. The airport Customs Office said it had no record of cases related to ammunition that day. China's airport immigration office declined to comment.

Mr. Hohn's last trip had been unexpectedly extended after he volunteered to take over the flight duties of another FedEx pilot whose wife had gone into labor and who was suddenly called away, one of the people familiar with the matter said.

That tacked on an additional flight from Tokyo's Narita airport. Mr. Hohn had completed that flight and was preparing to travel home when he was detained.

He had cleared security with the air gun pellets, which are often made of plastic, without any issues at both the airport in Japan and an exit-screening at the FedEx facility in Guangzhou, the people familiar with the matter said.

He graduated from Niceville High School in 1989 and received a bachelor of arts degree from Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1994, according to a 2012 article marking his promotion to colonel in the local Niceville paper, the Bay Beacon.

In a video posted on YouTube from 2016, Mr. Hohn reflected about how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks had altered his life in the Air Force and set off a 15-year military whirlwind in which he flew soldiers in and out of combat, as well as flew the bodies of fallen soldiers home.

He did a stint at the Pentagon before serving as commander of the 97th Air Mobility Wing at the Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma, according to the base's website. He stepped down in June 2017 after more than two decades in the military. An Air Force Facebook page showed him on his traditional last flight on June 13, 2017.

Later that month, he was part of a group of 21 new pilots who had recently joined FedEx and were being welcomed by a union membership committee, according to a FedEx union website.

Mr. Hohn's detention comes as China has repeatedly accused the U.S. of fomenting the unrest in Hong Kong.

China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Tuesday said American organizations are providing massive financial support and also training protesters.

FedEx is reeling from the U.S. trade dispute with China and weaker global macroeconomic conditions. Shares in FedEx plummeted Wednesday by the most in a decade, a day after the delivery giant cut its profit forecast for the fiscal year citing lower revenue projections in its Express unit, which ferries packages and cargo by planes around the world.

In June, FedEx was forced to apologize after it misrouted some of Huawei Technologies' packages, including two that were sent to FedEx's global hub in Memphis, Tenn., instead of to China. The Wall Street Journal reported the parcels were misrouted after FedEx changed its internal systems to comply with the Commerce Department's new restrictions.

Huawei publicly complained, and Chinese officials said they were opening an investigation into FedEx. FedEx made another apology in June after a Huawei smartphone being shipped by a journalist in the U.K. to the U.S. was returned to its sender.

Chinese police have since opened two investigations into FedEx. Last month, the Chinese police said they were investigating the company over the discovery of a gun in a package sent from the U.S. to China. FedEx said the incident dated back to June, and that it had notified the authorities about the shipment at the time.

China has strict gun control laws, and it is potentially a criminal offense there to possess airsoft guns, similar to BB pellet guns, which are sometimes sold by online retailers as toys. It is unclear that carrying airsoft pellets alone would be considered a violation.

Earlier this month, the state-run Xinhua News Agency said it had launched a probe after FedEx was suspected of illegally shipping a parcel containing knives to Hong Kong. FedEx said at the time the shipment never left its origin city and was handed over to authorities in the proper manner.

Write to John Lyons at john.lyons@wsj.com and Wenxin Fan at Wenxin.Fan@wsj.com

Stocks mentioned in the article
ChangeLast1st jan.
AIR CHINA LIMITED -2.62% 8.17 End-of-day quote.9.82%
ALTUS GROUP LIMITED -2.19% 38.39 Delayed Quote.65.82%
CATHAY PACIFIC AIRWAYS LIMITED -2.16% 9.96 End-of-day quote.-10.27%
FACEBOOK -2.38% 185.85 Delayed Quote.45.24%
FEDEX CORPORATION -0.52% 149.91 Delayed Quote.-6.59%
SWIRE PACIFIC LIMITED -0.75% 72.8 End-of-day quote.-12.08%
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