50 may testify at coroner's inquiry

Lawyers acting for Shane Todd's family say inquiry is scheduled for May 13-28

ABOUT 50 witnesses are being considered for the coroner's inquiry next month into American researcher Shane Todd's death, The Straits Times has learnt.

Dr Todd, 31, was found hanged in his apartment here last June shortly after he quit the Singapore Institute of Microelectronics (IME). His parents believe he may have been murdered over his work for the institute.

Dr Todd's parents have alleged that they found work files in their son's apartment here linking IME to a project with Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, which has been suspected of espionage by the United States government.

Huawei denies this, and both IME and Huawei have said they did not go beyond preliminary talks on a commercial project.

Nonetheless, two American lawmakers have called for blocks on US funding to the IME until the US Federal Bureau of Investigation gets full access to the probe of the death.

Last month, Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam also pledged a thorough investigation into Dr Todd's death during a visit to Washington, DC.

Lawyers not involved in the case said that it is not excessive even if all 50 witnesses are called, considering the high profile nature of the matter.

Said lawyer Shashi Nathan, who is not involved: "During the inquiry, there may be doctors, forensics experts, witnesses from the deceased's workplace, technicians and other experts."

The Todd family may also pose questions about the investigation findings, forensic and medical reports at the inquiry, which their lawyers said yesterday is scheduled for May 13 to 28.

The State Coroner will review the evidence and independently determine the cause of and circumstances connected with Dr Todd's death.

There are no provisions for an appeal against the coroner's finding if the family is dissatisfied with his verdict. The public prosecutor may direct further investigations if necessary, and ask that the inquiry be re-opened, but lawyers said that such a move is rare.

A team of five lawyers from three Singapore law firms will represent the Todd family during the inquiry. Ms Gloria James from Gloria James-Civetta & Co, the team's leader, said that Dr Todd's father Rick contacted the firm through its website last week. "The family offered to pay but we waived the fees because they are already incurring a lot of expenses," she said.

Ms James added that she put together the team of lawyers because of the "sheer volume of work".

It has worked on other cases together, she said. In December last year, they represented four SMRT bus drivers from China charged with instigating a strike.

Ms James said she has advised the Todd family to be in Singapore by the first week of May. Dr Todd's parents, who live in Montana in the US, did not respond to e-mailed queries.