The mystery of Shane Todd: Did US electronic engineer commit suicide – or was he murdered because he knew too many Chinese secrets?

Parents claim son had been unhappy at work and feared 'heavy hands coming after him'

A coroner’s inquiry that opened in Singapore on Monday may offer a final chance of resolving whether an American electronics engineer committed suicide – or was killed to stop him talking to the US authorities about his work at a Singapore institute on a sensitive research project involving a high-profile Chinese telecommunications firm.

The body of Shane Todd was found on 24 June 2012 by his girlfriend in his apartment in Singapore, hanging from a strap attached to a door. A police autopsy said his death was caused by asphyxiation, but his parents believe he was murdered. They said suicide notes purportedly left by their son were faked and the initial police account of the scene bore little relation to what they found when they arrived at the apartment 48 hours after his death.

Mr Todd, who was 31 when he died, had joined the Singapore government-backed Institute for Micro Electronics (IME) 18 months earlier and for the final year of his life worked on an IME project to develop an amplifying device, using gallium nitride (GaN), a heat-resistant material with the potential to make superconductors with many possible uses in the civilian and military fields. Mr Todd had been trained in the US on proprietary equipment that produces GaN but is restricted for export because of its potential military applications.

During an early stage, IME was talking about the project with the Chinese telecom company Huawei, which is deemed a security risk by the US, Australia and India. According to his parents and his girlfriend Shirley Sarmiento, a Filipino nurse working in Singapore, Mr Todd was showing increasing signs of stress and unhappiness with his job as the project progressed.

Testifying on Monday as the first of at least 36 witnesses, Ms Sarmiento told the court that Mr Todd had frequently told her how he felt uncomfortable at IME and complained about the “dishonest environment” in his workplace. He had also mentioned how he feared “heavy hands coming after him”, she said.

Mr Todd had a history of depression dating back to his days as a college student, but in letters to his parents he had emphasised that his problem in Singapore was not depression but work-related anxiety. In particular, his parents, Rick and Mary Todd, told the Financial Times earlier this year that their son suspected he might be involved in a project that might be illegal, or something that in could compromise US national security. For this reason, they believe, he may have been murdered.

There are other apparent inconsistencies, apart from suicide notes that do not appear to be in Mr Todd’s handwriting. One of them apologised for being a burden on the family – but his mother pointed out he had never been a burden, but rather had excelled at everything he did.

According to the parents, the original police report described an elaborate mechanism for the hanging, including bolts drilled into the marble wall of the bathroom, that secured a pulley. But the Todds said they saw no trace of drilled holes when they arrived at the apartment from their home in Montana.

What they did discover, they told the FT, was an external hard drive. When they had it analysed by an IT expert in the US it was found to contain copies of their son’s computer files from IME, including a planned project apparently involving Huawei.

Friends have said that in the days before he died Mr Todd seemed in a much better mood, having secured a good job back in the US.

His parents said they found boxes of his effects and clothes laid out as if for packing, as well as the air ticket to the US on a table. The place, they said, “looked like a snapshot of a man in the middle of a move”.

The official version, however, is very different. The state counsel, Tai Wei Shyong, told the court police found no signs of foul play when they arrived on the scene and no evidence that anyone had tried to force their way into his apartment. In addition, Mr Tai said, Mr Todd’s computer showed he had visited several suicide-related websites in the days before he died and had made 19 searches about depression in the last two months of his life.

Meanwhile, IME and Huawei have minimised their collaboration on GaN research. K Shanmugam, Singapore’s Foreign Minister and law minister, has said Mr Todd was involved in “a small project” with Huawei that lasted nine months. IME and the Chinese company had also discussed a possible GaN project, he added, but could not agree terms. “Thus the project never materialised,” Mr Shanmugam said.

The inquest is expected to last a fortnight and some time after that a verdict will be handed down, which under Singapore law cannot be appealed. But the Todds have vowed to seek an investigation by the US Congress, no matter the outcome.

“We believe China and Singapore are illegally transferring technology,” Mary Todd said last week.

“If our son was murdered, the implications for Singapore and China are so extreme that they will go to any lengths to make it look like suicide.”

News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Arts and Entertainment
Liam and Zayn of One Direction play with a chimpanzee on the set of their new video for 'Steal My Girl'
music

Animal welfare charities have urged the boy band to cut the scenes

News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
Sport
Erik Lamela celebrates his goal
football

Argentinian scored 'rabona' wonder goal for Tottenham in Europa League – see it here

Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
News
i100
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Sport
Phil Jones (left) attempts to stop the progress of West Bromwich Albion’s James Morrison on Monday
Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo, writes Paul Scholes
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Focused Business Analyst - Finance and Procurement System Implementation

£350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reading are...

Note Taker - Scribe

£10 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced note taker...

DT Teacher - Resistant Materials

£4800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: A full time...

IT Systems Business Analyst - Watford - £28k + bonus + benefits

£24000 - £28000 per annum + bonus & benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Business Syste...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker