Who Poisoned $1M Lottery Winner with Cyanide?
A judge has ordered the exhumation of the body of a Chicago business owner and $1 million lottery winner who medical examiners say was killed by cyanide poisoning. As investigators work to find out how 46-year-old Urooj Khan was poisoned, a family drama is unfolding over Khan’s estate and the custody of his 17-year-old daughter.
Khan won the $1 million prize last summer and claimed his winnings during a press conference on July 19. The next night, after enjoying a meal of Kofta curry prepared by his wife, Shabana Ansari, Khan woke up gasping for air and vomiting blood. He died later at a hospital, and the medical examiner attributed his death to natural causes based on an external examination.
But a family member of Khan, who authorities have not identified, called the medical examiner to request a closer look into Khan’s death. Subsequent toxicology tests revealed Khan was killed by cyanide poisoning, and his death was reclassified as a homicide.
A Whodunnit Emerges
Investigators are confident Khan was poisoned, but police haven’t revealed a suspect or motive despite the fact that Khan died within hours of claiming his $425,000 lump sum winnings. Ansari’s attorney Steven Kozicki said his client was questioned in November by Chicago police detectives and the home she shared with Khan was searched. Kozicki told ABC7 News in Chicago that Ansari “absolutely, positively had nothing to do with her husband’s death.”
Khan’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Zaman, told the Chicago Sun-Times that he doesn’t know which family member requested the second look by medical examiners, but that many in the family found his sudden death suspicious.
“It’s unusual — people don’t collapse and die overnight,” Zaman said.
After exhuming Khan’s body, investigators hope to learn how the cyanide was administered by analyzing tissue samples. But time is working against them; Khan wasn’t embalmed, and since he died nearly six months ago, there’s no guarantee the medical examiners will find the evidence they’re looking for.
Speculation has surrounded Ansari because she prepared Khan’s final meal, and last week the Chicago Tribune reported that her father, who lived with the couple in their Chicago home, owed more than $120,000 in back taxes. Zaman said that the relationship between Khan and his father-in-law had recently become strained.
Seven-Figure Estate on Hold
The homicide investigation is just getting started, but the fate of Khan’s estate — which includes his recent lottery winnings — has been in probate court for months. In a September court filing, Khan’s brother ImTiaz Khan alleged that Ansari had Khan’s lottery check and that he was “concerned that she may attempt to cash the check again, as she did shortly after [Khan’s] death, even though the estate is entitled to the funds, not Ms. Ansari.”
The court papers go on to say ImTiaz Khan wants to ensure his brother’s 17-year-old daughter Jasmeen “receives her proper share.” Because Khan did not have a will, his estate is expected to be split between his daughter and widow under Illinois law.
Although the probate court has designated Ansari as the administrator of the estate, it has kept the estate’s $1.2 million in assets frozen since September. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24 to discuss how the assets will be divided.
Tragedy Could Reunite Family
As if the Khan family saga wasn’t complex enough, the publicity surrounding the case has also caught the attention of Maria Jones, Khan’s ex-wife and the biological mother of Jasmeen. Jones says she hasn’t seen or heard from Khan or Jasmeen in 13 years, and was under the impression they had been living in India all this time.
Jones said she lacked the resources to fight Khan in court during their contentious divorce, and subsequently lost sole custody of Jasmeen to her ex-husband. Khan relocated to India with Jasmeen after the divorce, but quickly married Ansari and moved back to the United States where he established a dry cleaning business in Chicago.
Jasmeen spent most of her life in Chicago under the care of Khan and Ansari, but after Khan’s death, his sister Meraj Khan petitioned for and won custody of Jasmeen. Now that Jones has discovered her long-lost daughter is living just two hours away, she hopes to be reunited with her.
“The biological mother would likely have standing to petition for visitation right away, but time is ticking as she approaches 18,” said Chicago-based family law attorney Van A. Schwab. “Her legal rights could become a moot issue very quickly depending on how close [Jasmeen] is to her emancipation.”
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