Dead Indian-origin lotto winner's ties with family strained
As authorities in US investigate the mysterious murder of an Indian-origin businessman, new details are emerging about strained relations between members of his family and feud among them over his estate.world Updated: Jan 13, 2013 14:35 IST
As authorities in US investigate the mysterious murder of an Indian-origin businessman, new details are emerging about strained relations between members of his family and feud among them over his estate.
Urooj Khan, 46, died of cyanide poisoning under mysterious circumstances last July, just a day after he had received a cheque of $425,000 as his prize money after taxes for a million dollar lottery he had won a month ago.
He had come to the US from his home in Hyderabad in 1989 and set up several dry-cleaning businesses in Chicago.
Initially, Khan's death was believed to be due to natural causes but at the request of a relative, the cause of his death was re-examined.
New screening results showed that a lethal amount of cyanide was present in Khan's system.
A Chicago judge has allowed exhumation of Khan's body to get more forensic samples that would help investigators narrow down on the possible cause and motive of his death.
New details are also simultaneously emerging about strained relations among his family members, who include his wife Shabana Ansari, his sister Meraj Khan, brother-in-law Mohammed Zaman, teenage daughter and a father-in-law who owed tens of thousands of dollars in taxes.
Khan's nephew Minhaj Khan told ABC News the family had a feeling something was not right when his uncle died mysteriously.
"He was a healthy guy," the nephew said.
"He worked so hard. He was always going about his business and, the thing is: After he won the lottery and the next day later he passes away -- it's awkward. It raises some eyebrows."
"When we found out there was cyanide in his blood after the extensive toxicology reports, we had to believe that... somebody had to kill him," he said.
"It had to happen, because where can you get cyanide?" Khan has reportedly not left a will, which could add to the family's legal fight.
Khan's brother has filed a petition asking Citibank to release information about Khan's assets to "ultimately ensure" that [Khan's] minor daughter from a prior marriage "receives her proper share."
32-year-old Shabana may have tried to cash the jackpot cheque after Khan's death, according to court documents, which also showed that Khan's family is questioning if the couple was ever even legally married.
Shabana's attorney said she has a marriage certificate from India that is valid in the US.
Khan's brother and sister had won a court order to freeze the lottery winnings after Shabana cashed the cheque.
While the police has not named any suspect, Shabana has been questioned by investigators for more than four hours.
"Absolutely, positively, you know, she had nothing to do with her husband's death," Shabana's attorney has said.
According to the Illinois Comptroller's Office, Khan's cheque was cashed in August 15, nearly a month after Khan's death.
Khan's estate is estimated to be $1.2 million, which includes in lottery winnings, real estate, Khan's laundry business and automobiles.
Shabana has told investigators that she had cooked a non-vegetarain meal for the family the night Khan died.
But Khan's sister has said that Shabana is a vegetarian and would not have eaten the lamb curry she prepared for her husband.
Khan's daughter from a first marriage Jasmeen is living with Khan's sister, who had won guardianship of the teen.
Coming into the picture is Khan's ex-wife and Jasmeen's mother who lives in Indiana and goes by the name of Maria Jones.
Jones told the Chicago Sun-Times she last saw her daughter 13 years ago, when Khan had taken the girl to India.
"I don't know if she knows I'm still alive," she told the newspaper. "I thought she was in India all these years."