By John O'Callaghan
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The parents of Shane Todd, an American engineer found dead in Singapore last year, intend to prove at a coroner's inquiry that he was murdered over a project they say involved the illegal transfer of sensitive technology to China.
But Rick and Mary Todd told Reuters they would push for an investigation by the U.S. Congress no matter what verdict emerges from the inquiry in Singapore that starts next Monday.
"We believe China and Singapore are illegally transferring technology, our technology, from the United States," Mary Todd, a Christian pastor, said in an interview on Wednesday.
"We believe it's so high up that 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."
An autopsy in the Southeast Asian city-state concluded that Todd, 31, died by hanging after his body was found suspended from a door in his apartment on June 24, two days after he quit his job at Singapore's Institute of Microelectronics (IME).
The Todds said they had proof, on a hard drive they say they found in the apartment, that their son worked on a project between state-linked IME and Chinese telecommunications company Huawei involving the advanced semiconductor material gallium nitride, which has commercial and military purposes.
Huawei and Singapore officials have denied the allegations.
The Chinese company, which has been blocked from some projects in Australia and deemed a security risk by the U.S. Congress on the grounds its equipment could be used for spying, said in February it had not worked with IME on any projects involving gallium nitride (GaN).
Colleagues of Todd's at IME told Reuters he had worked on a routine project testing semiconductors for Huawei.
"We feel we know what happened to our son and we want it to come out and to be exposed," Mary Todd said.
"If they come out with a verdict of suicide, that's too bad for Singapore. This is not going to go away. Our government, our FBI, has the proof. We have it."
Todd "was involved in a small project with Huawei that lasted nine months", K. Shanmugam, Singapore's foreign minister and law minister, told Reuters in an interview in late March.
"IME discussed a project involving GaN with Huawei. This GaN project has been the subject of much, and sometimes breathless, media speculation. The reality is IME and Huawei could not agree terms on the project and thus the project never materialized."
'PUBLIC AND TRANSPARENT'
District Judge Chay Yuen Fatt, a former prosecutor at the Attorney General's Office, will oversee the inquiry rather than the state coroner, Imran Abdul Hamid.
District judges "will assist the state coroner on an ad hoc basis if there are cases that will take a long time to be heard", a court spokeswoman said, adding that the state coroner will oversee other inquiries in May.
Authorities have set aside 12 days to review the forensic reports and hear testimony from the police, experts and other witnesses. The Todds can testify and ask questions themselves or through their lawyer.
"It will be a public and transparent process," Shanmugam, who discussed the Todd case with U.S. officials during a visit to Washington in March, told Reuters.
Interviews by Reuters with Todd's family, colleagues and friends last July revealed conflicting views on his state of mind before his death, the nature of his work and how he died.
Colleagues said Todd was depressed in his last few months, his concerns appearing to center on a sense of failure about his work and ambivalence about returning to the United States.
The Todds dispute that, saying they were in frequent contact with their son and he had expressed fears for his life related to his work at IME.
IME is part of a network of research institutes managed by Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research, or A*Star. During his visit to Washington, Shanmugam said IME was subject to a "very rigorous audit" to ensure there was no improper transfer of technology.
Senator Max Baucus, who represents Todd's home state of Montana, has said he will "stop at nothing" to satisfy the Todd family or determine there had been no transfer of technology that might jeopardize U.S. security.
"This is far bigger than our son's death. This is a matter of national security. Our goal is to take it to a congressional investigation," said Rick Todd, an airline pilot.
"When it comes down to it, it doesn't matter what they decide. It matters for Singapore because it shows how they run things. It will come out in the trial, but the significance for the world is what we're concerned about."
(Additional reporting by Kevin Lim; Editing by Ron Popeski)
(This story is corrected to show district judge, not state coroner, will oversee inquiry in 14-16th paragraph)