The family of Urooj Khan, the lottery winner who was poisoned with cyanide the day after he collected his $1 million jackpot, are at war with his widow amid claims she tried to cash the winning cheque in the days after his death.
Urooj Khan’s brother, ImTiaz Khan, has alleged that Shabana Ansari attempted to claim the windfall “shortly” after Urooj’s death but was unable to do so.
ImTiaz Khan also claimed that his late brother and Shabana Ansari were not even married, meaning that she could miss out on half of the lottery prize to which she is entitled.
In another sign the family are tearing themselves apart, Urooj Khan’s sister, Meraj Khan, has launched a legal bid to take guardianship of his daughter Jasmeen from his first marriage.
Meraj Khan wants custody of the 17-year-old even though she appears to have lived with step-mother Shabana Ansari at her home in Chicago for most of her life.
Shabana Ansari’s lawyer said his client had been questioned for four hours by police and had “nothing to hide”.
The developments come as the Cook County Medical Examiner is expected to seek a court order to exhume Urooj Khan’s body later this week.
Family members said they do not wish to see the body if it goes ahead because it will be too traumatizing.
It is a tragic turn of events from July 19 last year when a delighted Urooj Khan, 46, collected the over-sized cheque from Illinois State Lottery officials at the 7-Eleven where he bought the winning scratchcard.
The event has revealed the first picture of Urooj Khan’s 32-year-old wife Shabana Ansari who moved to the U.S. after marrying him 12 years ago.
She can be seen wearing a green traditional Indian dress with a scarlet scarf. Her step-daughter Jasmeen Khan stands beside her wearing a grey sari.
Urooj Khan is seen smiling widely and told the TV cameras he was going to use the money to pay bills, donate to St Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Chicago and grow his dry-cleaning business.
After taxes, the prize money amounted to $425,000 which he opted to take in a lump sum.
The day after receiving his winning cheque, Urooj Khan came home from work and ate a traditional Indian Kofta curry that his wife had prepared.
He died a short time later. The initial examination by the Cook County Medical examiner found he had died of heart disease or natural causes.
After his death, the winning cheque was eventually cashed on August 15. However, in probate documents filed with the Cook County Court, ImTiaz Khan suggested that Shabana Ansari had tried to do so before.
In a September filing, ImTiaz Khan writes: “Ms Shabana Ansari is in possession of the lottery cheque and is concerned she may attempt to cash the cheque again, as she did shortly after the decedent’s [Urooj Khan’s] death, even though the estate is entitled to the funds.”
ImTiaz Khan also alleges that his brother’s ‘only known heir is his daughter Jasmeen Khan’ and pointedly states that Shabana Ansari is not her biological mother.
He says he wants her to get her “fair share” and alleges “there remains question as to whether [Urooj Khan] was married to Ms Ansari”.
His filing reads: “[ImTaiz Khan’s] counsel was informed by Citibank that [Urooj Khan’s] spouse, Ms Shabana Ansari, has been in communication with the bank and believes Ms Ansari may be attempting to control [Urooj’s] accounts.”
The papers also state: “Meraj Khan, [Urooj Khan’s] sister, filed a petition for Guardian of the minor [Jasmeen] on September 19, 2012.”
As a result of the filings last year, the jackpot was frozen and will remain so for the next three months.
In response, Shabana Ansari filed documents of her own which stated she was indeed married to Urooj Khan and the court agreed, making her the administrator of the estate.
The remaining three months will allow family members to make their case to the lawyer organizing how funds will be handed out. In normal circumstances, 50% goes to the spouse and 50% to the children, unless there are grounds for complaint.
In one sense Urooj Khan, who emigrated from India in the 1980s, should not even have been gambling in the first place because of his Islamic faith.
He had recently returned to Chicago from the Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, inspired to lead a better life and had sworn off buying lottery tickets – except just this once.
His death would have gone unnoticed as the first toxicology report said Urooj Khan died of heart disease.
However, two months later, a relative called the medical examiner demanding a fresh inquiry into the poisoning as he “didn’t accept it was going to be a natural death”.
During the dramatic phone call, the family member flatly rejected the original ruling and ordered investigators to have another look.
A second, more thorough toxicology report turned up the cyanide poisoning as cause of death.
Deborah Blum, a poison expert whose book The Poisoner’s Handbook is being made into a PBS TV series, said that Urooj Khan would have been in “absolute agony” after eating the cyanide.
Deborah Blum, a former chemist, said: “A good lethal dose of cyanide will kill you in ten minutes. A mid-range dose and people die within the hour. For a poison that’s pretty fast.
“Cyanide poisoning is a nasty death. There is an enzyme which allows your cells to breathe and the cyanide wipes that enzyme out.
“It suffocates you cell by cell. Symptoms include seizures, extreme shortness of breath and usually cardiac arrest.”
In her latest interview, Shabana Ansari told the Chicago Sun-Times that she hopes “God will reveal the truth”.
Shabana Ansari has previously paid tribute to her husband as a “workaholic” and vowed to keep his laundry business open to honor his memory.