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American death in Singapore raises questions about espionage, foul play

Staff and visitors walk pass the lobby at the Huawei office in Wuhan, China. Investigators are looking into a possible link between the company and the death of an American engineer.

Was it suicide or was it murder? And is a major Chinese company trying to use restricted U.S. technology for a military purpose?

In a case with possible national security implications for the U.S., an American electronics engineer was found hanged in Singapore last year. Local police suggested Shane Todd's death was suicide. He was troubled and was just leaving his job, but the family isn't buying it.

A story in the Financial Times is raising troubling questions about the circumstances of the death and work Todd was doing for IME, a Singapore government research institute. The work reportedly involved gallium nitride, a semiconductor that can withstand high levels of heat and power with both civilian and military applications. There are also possible connections to Huawei, the big Chinese phone company that American lawmakers worry could be involved in espionage.

"What we know from a file on Mr. Todd's computer was that he has a project labeled 'Huawei' and there was a project plan where IME and Huawei would be working on a project from 2012 to the end of 2014," explains Christine Spolar, investigations editor for the Financial Times, who says that Todd's family suspects foul play related to this work.

According to the family, Todd told them he feared he was working on a project that was hurting U.S. national security.

In response to the FT's piece, Singapore authorities say they are still investigating Shane Todd's death, with a coroner's inquest set next month. 

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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