Verdict in Singapore: US Engineer Shane Todd Killed Himself

By Kevin Lim & John O’callaghan 8 July 2013

SINGAPORE — American engineer Shane Todd committed suicide in Singapore last year, a coroner’s inquiry in the city-state concluded on Monday, in a verdict at odds with his family’s belief that he was murdered because of his work.

The case had threatened to become an issue between Singapore and the United States as Senator Max Baucus, who represents Todd’s home state of Montana, had pressed for more American involvement in the investigation.

The possibility of diplomatic discord appears to have diminished, even though Todd’s parents have vowed to push for an inquiry at home. The US embassy in Singapore was expected to issue a statement later on Monday.

Todd died of “asphyxia by hanging” and there was “no foul play involved in the deceased’s death,” said the summary of the findings by District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt, following two weeks of testimony by dozens of witnesses in May.

Singapore law requires a coroner’s inquiry for deaths that are not a result of illness.

Todd, 31, was found hanging from the bathroom door of his apartment in June 2012, two days after he left his job at Singapore’s Institute of Microelectronics (IME). He had been researching an advanced semiconductor material called gallium nitride (GaN) that has commercial and military applications.

Todd’s parents believe he was murdered over what they said was his role in a project between state-linked IME and Chinese telecoms equipment giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd that involved the transfer of sensitive technology to China.

Huawei and Singapore officials have denied the accusations, saying they did not proceed beyond initial discussions into a possible project involving GaN, which can be used in equipment ranging from mobile phone base stations to military radars.

The judge concurred, saying: “The potential GaN power amplifier project did not even materialize. Even if it did, which I did not find, the listed specifications show it would not have violated general export control laws, nor could it have been used for military applications.”

He added, “The deceased was not in possession of confidential and valuable classified information in the course of his employment at the IME.”

Huawei has been blocked from some projects in Australia and is deemed a security risk by the US Congress on the grounds that its equipment could be used for spying.

Rick and Mary Todd attended the inquiry for several days before pulling out and leaving Singapore, saying they had lost confidence in the system investigating their son’s death.

“What has made us say that we can no longer stay here is the testimony from the beginning, saying they are always only looking at suicide, never murder,” Rick Todd told Reuters Television on May 22. “The outcome was pre-determined.”

Through their lawyer, the Todds said they would issue a statement after they had gone through the 145-page report.

During the inquiry, Singapore government lawyers presented forensic reports that showed Todd died by hanging, based on injuries around his neck. Their findings were backed by two US pathologists, who said the manner of death pointed to suicide.

In June, Senior State Counsel Tai Wei Shyong said there was a “conspicuous absence” of any evidence to support the theory that Todd was murdered.

The parents walked out of the hearing after a US medical examiner they had hired retracted a statement that Todd had been garroted and the judge refused their request to delay testimony by another witness so they could go through it.

The Todds’ belief that their son was murdered was based on documents on a hard disk drive they said they found in his apartment. Singapore disputes the Todds’ account, saying police had returned the hard drive to the family after examining it.