US businessman Hu Zhicheng released from China

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Hu Zhicheng had described his time in prison as "hell on earth"

A US businessman who was unable to leave China for nearly five years has returned to his home in the US.

Hu Zhicheng was detained in China in 2008 when a former business partner accused him of commercial theft.

The US citizen was released in 2010, but banned from travelling out of China, despite calls from the US for him to be allowed home.

His return to the US comes ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping's summit with Barack Obama later this week.

Mr Hu, a Chinese-born inventor and expert on catalytic convertors, was jailed for 17 months after being accused of stealing trade secrets.

He was released in 2010 after the charges against him were dropped, but said that border police blocked his attempts to leave China.

On Tuesday, Mr Hu's family confirmed that he had returned to the US.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters that Mr Hu had been restricted from leaving China because of an ongoing lawsuit.

"Now these restrictions have been cancelled according to legal proceedings. The relevant judicial cases are being handled," he said.

Mr Hu's daughter, who had launched an online petition with over 60,000 signatures calling for her father's release, announced her father's return on a Facebook post.

"After 5 years, my dad is finally home!! Watching him walk around trying to find the chopsticks is the best feeling ever," she said.

In a statement quoted by the Associated Press news agency, the US State Department said: "We have seen the press reports and are pleased that Dr Hu is home with his family.''

More on this story