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Fugitive donor fails to appear for bail hearing

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Fugitive businessman Norman Hsu, who donated more than $1 million to senior Democrats, including the presidential campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, failed to appear yesterday for a bail-reduction hearing in a California court.

Hsu's attorneys told San Mateo Superior Court Judge Robert Foiles they did not know the whereabouts of their client, who evaded capture for more than 15 years before his surrender to authorities last week.

"Mr. Hsu is not here, and we do not know where Mr. Hsu is," San Francisco defense lawyer James Brosnahan said outside court. Mr. Brosnahan said "there was some contact" with Hsu a few hours before the scheduled 9 a.m. court appearance, but he declined to say who talked to Hsu.

In 1991, the Hong Kong native and New York apparel magnate failed to appear in court for sentencing after pleading no contest to a felony charge of defrauding investors of $1 million in a bogus investment scam.

Hsu had planned to ask Judge Foiles yesterday to cut his $2 million bail, which he posted last week, in half. After Hsu's failure to appear in court, the judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest. If arrested again, Hsu will be jailed without bail.

Hsu was also supposed to turn over his passport yesterday, but Mr. Brosnahan said Hsu had failed to give the passport to his legal team.

The California Attorney General's Office had agreed to the bail reduction because it would be used to reimburse the victims Hsu admitted swindling out of $1 million in the early 1990s.

"We did think that was enough," Deputy Attorney General Ralph Sivilla said outside court, adding he was "troubled" Hsu did not turn over his passport.

Federal Election Commission records show Hsu has donated $260,000 to Democratic Party groups and federal candidates since 2004. He donated $23,000 to Mrs. Clinton of New York, which her campaign has since given to charity. He also donated to Mr. Obama's senatorial campaign in 2004 and to his political action committee.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has said the $2,000 donation to his 2004 Senate campaign and the $5,000 he gave to his political action committee, known as Hopefund, will go to charity.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said it would give to charity the $43,700 Hsu made in donations, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it would give to charity the money he donated to it.

Hsu told reporters last week he thought the 1991 criminal charges had been taken care of when he completed his bankruptcy proceedings in the early 1990s.

"I have not sought to evade any of my obligations and certainly not the law," he said in a prepared statement.

Hsu has not been linked to any foreign government, and the fraud charges are unrelated to campaign contributions. It is not known whether federal investigators are looking into his donations, most of which were made since 2003.

But some of his donations were made through several people, raising suspicions that the money came from foreign or other hidden sources.

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