S'pore gallium nitride research linked to US engineer's death

American Shane Todd's death in June 2012 has been linked to his work on gallium nitride for Singapore's Institute of Microelectronics and an unidentified Chinese company suspected to be Huawei. Police investigations are ongoing.
Written by Kevin Kwang, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Local police say they are still looking into the death of American engineer Shane Todd here last June, but a U.S. news report suggests his death could be linked to research work on gallium nitride (GaN) conducted for his then-employer, Institute of Microelectronics, and an unidentified Chinese partner company.

A report Friday by Financial Times (FT) said Todd had headed a research team at IME which focused on the development of gallium nitride, a substance which can be used in both commercial and military applications ranging from light-emitting displays and cellular phone base stations to radar and satellite communications. 

IME building 2
Shane Todd was just finishing up his 18-month stint at IME and planning to return to the U.S. when his death was reported. (Credit: Institute of Microelectronics)

IME is a research institute under lcoal statutory board, Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star). It was founded in 1991 to help enhance the value-add of Singapore's microelectronics industry by undertaking core research and development (R&D) in microelectronics, supporting the industry's R&D needs, and developing skilled research personnel, according to IME's Web site.  

However, from early-2012, Todd reportedly told his family based in the United States he was worried his research work on a project at IME, which involved a Chinese company, was compromising U.S. national securityTodd's family later found an external hard drive in his Singapore apartment after his death, and it contained work files including one labeled "Huawei" which the FT report said appeared to be a plan for a joint project between IME and Huawei Technologies for the development of GaN.

Huawei's head of international media, Scott Sykes, told the news agency in December 2012 the company was "not aware of any of this" regarding Todd and the company's supposed partnership with IME. He later said: "We have not had any cooperation with IME with respect to GaN so there is nothing more to add."

"No prior assumptions" in investigations

In a separate FT report Sunday, the Singapore police issued a statement saying they investigated "all unnatural death cases thoroughly, working closely with the pathologist and other relevant experts, and no prior assumptions are made on the cause of death".

The statement came after the initial FT report cited the Todd family's concerns over how the Singapore police was handling the investigations.

The Singapore police also said since Shane Todd's death, it had "engaged and assisted the [Todd] family without impeding the objectivity of our investigation process". It added: "We will continue to do so. Police have also kept the American Embassy and FBI informed of this case."

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