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June 28, 2017

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Singapore asks US to help probe mystery hanging

SINGAPORE--Singapore is seeking U.S. assistance in probing the mysterious death of an American scientist reportedly involved in a project for a Chinese telecoms firm seen as a security risk by Washington.

Police confirmed they had asked the FBI to examine evidence from the family of Shane Todd, an electronics engineer found hanged in the city-state in June 2012.

The family disputes an autopsy report that he committed suicide and fear he may have been murdered, saying they found computer files linking Todd's work before his death to China's Huawei Technologies, which denies involvement in any such project.

A police spokesman told AFP they had asked Todd's family to share any evidence in their possession or have it reviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation if they were "not comfortable" handing it over to the Singapore Police Force.

"As there has so far been no response to this request, SPF has sought the FBI's assistance to engage the family and for FBI to examine the evidence," the spokesman said late Saturday in a written response to queries.

The U.S. State Department said on Friday that Washington had offered FBI assistance to Singapore, which has a thriving high-tech research sector, and was engaged in "frequent discussions" with the country's officials on the case.

The story first generated attention after the Financial Times reported in February that Todd's parents suspected he may have been murdered due to his work at a top electronics research institute in Singapore.

It said he was working on an advanced amplifier using gallium nitride (GaN), a tough semiconductor material, and that the technology could have commercial and military applications.

Asked about the report, Huawei told AFP it was approached by Todd's former employer, the Institute of Microelectronics (IME), but "we decided not to accept, and consequently do not have any cooperation with IME related to GaN."

"Huawei does not do military equipment or technology nor do we discuss it with partners," it said. "The development of GaN technology is commonplace across the entire telecommunications industry."

The late scientist's parents Rick and Mary Todd have told U.S. media of their suspicions about their 31-year-old son's death and lobbied officials in Washington to press for a deeper investigation.

They have also questioned the authenticity of a suicide note he was said to have left behind.

A CNN report on Sunday quoted the couple as saying that in his last months, their son expressed stress about his work and even fear for his life, wondering if his work might be illegal or a risk to U.S. national security.

A U.S. congressional committee last year labeled Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese telecom firm, as potential national security threats that should be excluded from government contracts and barred from making acquisitions in the United States.

Singapore police have classified Todd's case as an "unnatural death" and in such cases the final verdict is handed down after a coroner's inquest, which has yet to take place.

Todd worked from December 2010 to May 2012 for the IME, which is part of the Singapore government-funded Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

Agency Managing Director Raj Thampuran said in a statement to the Straits Times newspaper that "there were discussions but no project ensued between IME and Huawei on amplifiers."

"Notwithstanding the unfortunate consequences arising from the speculative media reports, central to this tragic incident is the demise of one of our own. We deeply grieve his loss and will for a long time to come," he added.

The Financial Times said that two months before he died, Todd was given an antidepressant by a Singapore psychiatrist who found him under heavy stress. He was also prescribed an antidepressant while a university student in 2002, according to the report.

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