THE supervisor of American researcher Shane Todd was grilled in court yesterday by Senior State Counsel Tai Wei Shyong.
In a sudden turn of events, Mr Tai produced the transcript of an audio recording which hinted that Dr Patrick Lo tried to influence his employees' statements to the police on Dr Todd's behaviour before his death.
The Singapore Institute of Microelectronics (IME) deputy executive director for research was back on the stand yesterday, after a technical glitch prevented the highly anticipated testimony of the pathologist who suggested that Dr Todd was murdered from being heard.
"You must be very careful... that's why there is legal to look over your statement, so you don't get in trouble," said Mr Tai, who was reading from the transcript of Dr Lo's briefing to a group of IME researchers last month.
Mr Tai added that when he listened to the recording again, he "formed the view that it raised the possibility that an attempt was made (by Dr Lo) to try and influence the views of the witnesses' condition statements given before this court".
The body of Dr Todd was found hanged in his home last June. But his parents believe he was murdered over his work at IME, which counts Huawei Technologies as a client. The Chinese telecommunications firm has been suspected of espionage by the US government, although it has denied it.
The court heard at the coroner's inquiry yesterday that the transcript had been surreptitiously recorded by Dr Todd's IME colleague, Dr Joseph Romen Cubillo, at a meeting Dr Lo held on April 11.
When questioned in court, Dr Lo said he had no intention of influencing his staff's statements but was merely stressing the importance of maintaining client confidentiality. He said he called the meeting after he realised that some of the confidential information he had given the police would be public information during the coroner's inquiry.
Dr Lo added that he did, in fact, repeatedly tell his staff they had an obligation to tell the police the truth, but the institute also had to protect the interests of its clients, including Huawei.
IME, however, had sought permission from Huawei to talk about its collaborations despite having signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). Otherwise, he would have been "hesitant to go into detail", he added. But when pressed by Mr Tai on whether he knew his obligations to the court outweighed any NDAs, Dr Lo replied: "I don't know what to say on this question."
He also clarified the issue of a handwritten "recipe" or formula, which Dr Todd's parents alleged that their son was left alone to copy, while he was in the United States for training.
Dr Lo said such a formula would be "useless", because even one for a simple LED light would have some 6,000 entries, and it would not have been possible to handcopy without inaccuracies.
The next witness at yesterday's inquiry was Mr Ashraf Massoud, an American computer analyst engaged by Dr Todd's parents.
He told the court that some of the Singapore police's forensics - which were conducted on a hard drive, two laptops, an Acer computer CPU and a cellphone recovered from Dr Todd's home - had been improperly handled.
Police officers who first responded to the scene have testified that they gained access to one of the laptops after they found two Post-it notes, one with a password and another scribbled with the words "Please do not enter. Please call the police", at the scene. The laptop had a suicide note apparently created by Dr Todd.
Mr Massoud, who has more than 14 years' experience in law enforcement including computer forensics, said the protocol would have been to remove the devices' batteries immediately to "freeze it in the state at that time".
The devices' data should then be copied and all analysis done on the back-up copy so that the originals would not be affected, he said, citing guidelines from the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists. But both laptops, he noted, had been accessed before they were copied by the police's computer forensics branch.
Mr Massoud also alleged that an "unidentified person" was in Dr Todd's home in the wee hours of June 23, the day before he was found dead.
This was based on his finding that the hard drive was connected to one of the laptops, removed and then connected to a third device.
A forensic police officer had found that the other laptop did not show signs of any USB devices being connected to it, noted Mr Massoud. But he did not mention the Acer desktop in Dr Todd's home, which could have been the mystery device.
At the time of the supposed intruder, Dr Todd was also alive, according to police investigations and the state's opening submission for the case. Dr Todd had dinner with an IME colleague on June 23.
The hearing was adjourned before Mr Massoud could be cross-examined. The inquiry resumes today.