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Coroner's inquiry opens into death of U.S. engineer in Singapore


08:22, May 14, 2013

SINGAPORE, May 13 (Xinhua) -- The high-profile coroner's inquiry into the death of American engineer Shane Todd in Singapore opened on Monday, with an officer saying that an anti- depressant was found in Todd's apartment, and depression and suicide-related websites had been accessed from his laptop in the months before his death.

Senior State Counsel Tai Wei Shyong said in the opening statement on Monday morning that the internet history on the laptop of the 31-year-old microelectronics engineer showed that suicide-related websites had been accessed on 19 different occasions between March 10 and June 23 last year.

Todd join the Institute of Microelectronics (IME), a unit of the state-run Agency for Science, Technology and Research, in 2010. It was his first job after graduating with a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He was found hanging from a black strap in front of a closed toilet door in his bedroom in his apartment on the second floor of a conserved three-storey shophouse on June 24, 2012.

The apparent suicide came three days after Todd quit his job with the Institute of Microelectronics. He was expected to go back to the United States on a flight on July 1 last year.

Singapore police has classified the case as suicide, while Todd 's parents suspected foul play and sought help from U.S. lawmakers to put pressure on Singapore.

Todd's girlfriend Shirley Sarmiento, a Philippino who is working as a nurse at a local hospital, was the first finding Todd hanged in his apartment. His neighbor Michael Goodwin, alerted by the woman screaming, asked their neighbors to call the police.

The officers upon arriving at the scene observed "no signs of forced entry" and "no signs of injury on the body."

Sarmiento, Goodwin and two other witnesses who took the stand on Monday morning said that Todd had been stressed over his work, especially after he had transferred to a new research group within the Institute of Microelectronics in March 2011.

Sarmiento, who came to know Todd through an online dating website in December 2010, said that Todd told her sometime between April and June last year that "he had been depressed since October 2011."

Todd had also seen a psychiatrist and had been prescribed anti- depressant pills, according to Tai.

According to Sarmiento, Todd said he was depressed over his work because of the cancellation of a meeting with a friend from the United States over a potential research collaboration and also because "one of his bosses had stolen his team's idea."

But he did not give many details into how the idea was stolen, according to his girlfriend.

He was also not happy partly because some of his colleagues were Chinese who spoke to each other in Mandarin, a language he did not understand.

His neighbor Goodwin said he learned from a conversation Todd about a month before his death that the engineer was "very stressed at work and that he wanted to quit."

Goodwin described Todd as a being a perfectionist and also mentioned that Todd hated his job. Todd also mentioned he was embarrassed over an incident where he dropped a 10,000 dollars equipment in front of his colleagues at work.

"He also informed me that he had other staff who were more experienced and older than him, but they were reporting to him. However, according to Shane, his manager had begged him to stay. Shane also told me he was quite embarrassed as he had dropped some form of equipment in front of his colleagues at work," Goodwin said in a witness statement.

Two other witnesses described Todd as "solid," "ambitious" and "proud."

Singapore police has concluded that Todd took his own life, while a U.S. medical examiner engaged by Todd's parents said in a report that the death was a homicide.

Todd's parents had insisted that they suspected foul play over Todd's work at the Institute of Microelectronics, "possibly" over what they said could be a technology transfer involving Chinese telecommunications equipment maker Huawei.

Huawei has denied the allegation, saying that the collaboration mentioned by Todd's parents did not even proceed.

Huawei, the world's second largest telecommunications equipment maker, has been blocked from selling its equipment to the United States market over perceived possible threat.

Todd's parents also raised questions over the status of a hard disk drive, which they said had been accessed several days after Todd's death.

Two independent experts from the United States who were requested to help concluded that the manner of Todd's death was suicide.

The case has been gradually high-profile as media in Britain and the United States splashed headlines over the incident.

Singapore police recently refuted a Financial Times report on the death of American engineer Shane Todd as "inaccurate" and " mischievous." Authorities in Singapore have said that they adopt standards that were among the highest in the world.

Todd's parents are in Singapore for the coroner's inquiry.

More than 60 witnesses have been lined up for the coroner's inquiry. About half of them are likely to take the stand, with the rest providing recorded statements.

The case also led to apparent diplomatic pressure on Singapore after Todd's family had sought the help of U.S. lawmakers, who subsequently tried to block U.S. funding to IME.

While admitting that he did not have the facts, U.S. senator Max Baucus said he had "deep concerns about potential foul play and potential breaches of national security."

Some of the U.S. lawmakers have also been pushing for American investigators to take the lead in reviewing the case.

Kishore Mahbubani, a former diplomat of Singapore, said he was appalled at Baucus jumping the gun and trying to pressure by forcing Singapore to give the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) oversight of the case before the coroner's court had completed its inquiry.

"This goes against all international laws and norms. The United States would never allow a foreign police force to oversee an FBI investigation. Nor would it allow any foreign intervention into its judicial inquiry process," he said.

Any objective investigation will show that the Singapore police is at least as competent, if not more competent, than the FBI, he added.

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Email|Print|Comments(Editor:LiangJun、Yao Chun)

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