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Father-in-law: ‘Nothing, nothing’ to do with lottery winner’s death

Sunday, January 20, 2013
Chicago Sun-Times
by STEFANO ESPOSITO AND MITCH DUDEK

When Urooj Khan was a boy in his native India, his future father-in-law would give him pocket change to buy popcorn.

“I raised him up from the age of 12 years,” Fareedun Ansari, 71, said Thursday, a day before Cook County prosecutors plan to seek a judge’s order to exhume Khan’s remains.

But Khan’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Zaman, told the Chicago Sun-Times that the relationship between Khan and Ansari had soured recently.

“He was complaining about his father-in-law,” Zaman said. “He was not too comfortable about him.”

Zaman wouldn’t go into specifics, citing the ongoing criminal investigation into Khan’s death. Fareedun Ansari’s name surfaced this week after documents showed he was in financial trouble in 2011, owing $124,000 in back federal taxes.

Ansari, who lived under Urooj Khan’s West Rogers Park roof and was at home the night investigators say Khan died of cyanide poisoning, was adamant that he had nothing to do with the lottery winner’s death.

“Nothing. Nothing,” Ansari said, fighting a sore throat, as reporter after reporter came in for interviews at one of Urooj Khan’s three dry-cleaning businesses on the Far North Side.

“He’d say ‘Uncle, give me one rupee to buy the popcorn,’ ” he said of Khan as a boy.

Federal tax liens filed against Ansari in February and March of 2011 show Ansari owed a combined $124,000 in back taxes from 2010, according to Cook County Recorder of Deeds office records.

James Pittacora, Ansari’s attorney, said Thursday he thinks Fareedun Ansari and Khan were close.

“From what I understand, they had a great relationship … no hostilities,” Pittacora said.

Pittacora said that his client has not been interviewed by detectives investigating the death of the 46-year-old Khan.

Asked if there are any plans to do so, Pittacora said, “I don’t know.”

Initially, Khan’s death was classified as stemming from natural causes — hardening of the arteries.

But a relative called the medical examiner’s office and told the doctor handling the case to take a closer look. After some toxicology tests, Khan’s death was reclassified as a homicide: cyanide poisoning.

No suspects have been named in the case, but the Cook County medical examiner says Khan’s body should be exhumed to determine how the cyanide got into his system.

Khan’s widow, a weary-looking Shabana Ansari, told an international group of reporters Thursday that she’s cooperating with investigators, and she questioned a probate case that claims she might cut out Khan’s daughter from a previous marriage from any assets.

“I was taking care of her all these years,” Shabana Ansari said. “How could I do an injustice to her?”

The probate case, in the Circuit Court of Cook County, involves one of Khan’s brothers, ImTiaz Khan, who wants a judge to force Citibank to release his brother’s “account information and assets,” according to court filings.

ImTiaz Khan, through his attorney, claims Urooj Khan’s daughter from a previous marriage, Jasmeen, Shabana Ansari’s stepdaughter, might not receive “her proper share” of the estate because “Ms. Ansari may be attempting to control [her husband’s] accounts,” according to court documents.

“As administrator of the estate, ImTiaz Khan respectfully requests that he be allowed to collect the lottery check payable to Urooj Khan, unfreeze the check, and deposit the funds into an estate account in order to preserve the asset for the decedent’s daughter,” according to court documents.

Zaman, 46, who is married to Urooj Khan’s sister Meraj Khan, stood on the front steps of the family’s bungalow on busy West Howard on Thursday and said his family is “devastated” by his death and is eager for answers.

“Everybody has to die, but not that way,” Zaman said. “We didn’t expect our brother to be the victim of a homicide.”

Zaman insists he doesn’t know which relative tipped off investigators that Urooj Khan’s death might not be natural, as the medical examiner’s office originally classified it.

“It’s unusual — people don’t collapse and die overnight,” Zaman said.

Zaman said that from afar, at least, his brother-in-law and Shabana Ansari appeared to have a “good relationship.”

But Zaman said the relationship between Urooj Khan’s daughter, Jasmeen, and her stepmother had been strained for some time.

Jasmeen is now living with her aunt and Zaman, who gained custody after Urooj Khan died. Jasmeen no longer wanted to live at her West Rogers Park home after detectives searched it, Zaman said.

Zaman said his family has had almost no contact with Shabana Ansari since the homicide investigation began.

“After that, we couldn’t talk to her because she hired all these attorneys,” Zaman said.

Shabana Ansari said she loves her stepdaughter. “Yes, I do,” she insisted Thursday.

She said she didn’t know why the teen no longer lived at the family’s West Rogers Park home.

Shabana Ansari confirmed again to reporters that she had prepared dinner the night Khan died, and she said the whole family shared the same lamb curry. She has said she had nothing to do with her husband’s death.

Earlier this week, Fareedun Ansari said the family watched TV after the meal and then went to bed. Ansari recalled seeing his son-in-law later that night, and described him as looking “dull,” clarifying that to mean drowsy.

Khan’s wife said he began feeling ill in the middle of the night and collapsed when he tried to get up from a chair.

Khan died a short time later at an Evanston hospital.



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