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US: Indian-American lottery winner's body to be exhumed

Updated: January 12, 2013, 12:30 PM IST
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US: Indian-American lottery winner's body to be exhumed
Urooj Khan, 46, died July 2012, a day after he collected a cheque of $425,000 as his prize money.

New York: A US court has given the go-ahead for exhumation of the body of an Indian-origin businessman in Chicago, who died of cyanide poisoning under mysterious circumstances days after he won a million dollar lottery. Judge Susan Coleman of the Probate Division of the Cook County Circuit Court in Illinois approved the Cook County medical examiner's request to exhume the body of Urooj Khan, 46, who died July 2012 a day after he collected a cheque of $425,000 as his prize money.

It was not immediately known how quickly the body would be exhumed, but Coleman's order called for it "as soon as possible" since Khan's body was not embalmed before burial. The process of exhumation and autopsy is expected to take place as soon as next week.

Initially no foul play was suspected in Khan's death and the medical examiner's office had initially ruled that Khan had died of natural causes. However, at the request of Khan's relative, the cause of his death was re-examined and new screening results from fluid samples showed that a lethal amount of cyanide was present in Khan's system.

In allowing Khan's body to be exhumed from a cemetery in Chicago, Coleman said there is "reasonable and sufficient" reason for the Cook County medical examiner to get more forensic samples from Khan's body. The Chicago Tribune reported that no one had objected to exhuming Khan's body.

According to court papers, Chief Medical Examiner Stephen Cina said it was important to exhume Khan's body "as expeditiously as possible" since Khan's body was not embalmed. The medical examiner's office said in court papers it was necessary to do a full autopsy to "further confirm the results of the blood analysis as well as to rule out any other natural causes that might have contributed to or caused Khan's death."

Khan owned a dry-cleaning business in Chicago and had won a million dollars in an Illinois lottery scratch ticket in June last year. Khan's sister Meraj said after Friday's brief court hearing that exhuming the body of his brother was "distressing" for the family but was necessary to seek justice.

"We've been waiting for justice all this time," she said, adding that exhuming the body is "not rest in peace but hopefully the truth will come out." Khan had dinner before going to bed on the night he died. His sister said she had received a phone call at about 4 in the morning from her brother's home. She thought her brother was up early because it was the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan but she heard horrible screaming on the other end of the line.

"I couldn't understand what was happening," she said. "I heard screaming, and that's all. But I still don't know who made that call. It's hard for me to believe even now," Meraj Khan said.

"How could they do this, whoever did it? He was a good man, very giving," she said. "He always donated money to orphanages. He was very lovely, very friendly, best brother in the world."

At the time of Khan's death, those living in his house included his wife Shabana Ansari, her father Fareedun Ansari and Khan's teenage daughter Jasmeen from a previous marriage. Chicago police had questioned Ansari about what she had prepared for dinner the night her husband died.

Ansari and her attorney, Al Haroon Husain, say she is not involved in his death. "It's sad that I lost my husband," Ansari told ABC News. "I love him and I miss him. That's all I can say."

In another legal twist to the case, Khan's brother has filed a petition this week in a court judge asking a local bank to release information about Khan's assets to "ultimately ensure" that (Khan's) minor daughter "receives her proper share." Khan's sister had been granted custody of his daughter after his death.

"She's very devastated," said Meraj of her niece. "She's 17. It's very hard for her to cope with everything that's going on." Khan's siblings have also questioned whether he and Ansari were legally married, but Ansari's attorney said she has a marriage certificate from India that is valid in the United States.

Khan's brother and sister had won a court order to freeze the lottery winnings after Ansari cashed the cheque. 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 dollars, which includes in lottery winnings, real estate, Khan's laundry business and automobiles.

First Published: January 12, 2013, 12:30 PM IST
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