TechnoStorm

Singapore to open inquiry into US scientist's death

Singapore will launch a public inquiry Monday into the death of a US researcher whose family believes he was murdered because of a high-tech project for a Chinese firm that has been suspected of espionage.

More than 60 potential witnesses are listed to take part in the coroner's inquest into the death of electronics engineer Shane Todd, who was found hanged in June 2012 in his Singapore apartment as he was preparing to return to the United States.

Huawei Technologies, a Chinese telecom giant seen by Washington as a security threat, and Todd's former employer, Singapore's state-linked Institute of Microelectronics (IME), deny collaborating on any project involving Todd.

The scientist's parents, Rick and Mary Todd, are disputing a Singapore autopsy report that he committed suicide. They say their son had feared for his life and left computer files linking his work at the IME to Huawei.

They have not accused anyone in particular of responsibility for his death.

"We believe our son was murdered. We know our son was murdered," Mary Todd, 57, a church pastor, told AFP after arriving last week with her husband, an airline pilot, to testify at the inquest.

Under Singapore law, a coroner's inquest is a fact-finding process to determine the cause of death in suspected suicides and other forms of "unnatural" death, with police findings forming part of the evidence.

In the run-up to the inquest, Singapore invited the Federal Bureau of Investigation to work with its police on the case after senior US officials backed the Todd family's demands for a deeper probe.

The inquiry is scheduled to last until May 28, after which a verdict on the cause of death is expected in three to four weeks.

The case gained world attention when the London-based Financial Times reported in February that Todd, 31, was working on a project using gallium nitride (GaN), a semiconductor material that can be used in radar and satellite communications.

The newspaper quoted Todd's mother as saying that the researcher -- who had a history of depression -- "felt he was being asked to compromise American security" at the IME in his dealings with "a Chinese company".

In reaction to the report, Huawei and the IME confirmed they discussed a potential project on GaN technology but said talks did not progress beyond preliminary stages.

Singapore, a high-tech research hub which has close links with both China and the United States, said there had been "no illegal transfers of technology" and welcomed a US audit of the IME's projects.

A US congressional committee last year labelled Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom firm, as potential national security threats that should be excluded from government contracts and barred from acquiring US firms.

A Singapore lawyer not involved in the case said the inquest will focus on the cause of death.

"Questions of whether there is an element of cross-national conspiracy involved in the case will not necessarily be addressed in the inquiry. Those questions are not within the ambit of the coroner," Sunil Sudheesan, of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, told AFP.

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