(MCT) — CHICAGO—Weeks before he died mysteriously from cyanide poisoning after winning a $1 million lottery jackpot, a North Side businessman inked a deal with his business partner to ensure that his share of several dry cleaning stores went to his wife in the event of his death.
The unusual agreement is sure to fuel the fight among relatives of Urooj Khan over his estate, once estimated at $2 million. Khan’s siblings had already raised concerns that his widow, Shabana Ansari, might keep the lottery winnings for herself instead of sharing the proceeds with Khan’s 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.
In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, Khan’s sister, Meraj Khan, said the her suspicions of Ansari’s motives have intensified since learning Thursday of the business agreement.
“Things are getting more clear about why my brother is gone,” the sister said. “Out of nowhere she’s the beneficiary for...the business?”
Ansari has been questioned by Chicago police detectives in her husband’s death, but she has denied any wrongdoing and has not been accused of a crime.
The business contract means that Ansari owns half of the dry cleaning operation and its real estate, valued at more than $1 million, instead of those assets being divided among heirs in probate court, according to Ansari’s lawyer, Al-Haroon Husain.
“It’s a bit unusual,” Husain said following a hearing in the Daley Center. “I just think he wanted to make sure his wife had a business and had attachment to the commercial property if something happened to him.”
In addition, a real-estate agreement Khan signed with his wife in 2007 entitles her to sole ownership of their Rogers Park home, which is valued at almost half a million dollars, Husain said.
If those assets are not included, Khan’s estate is worth only about $680,000, including the $425,000 in lottery winnings, according to documents filed Thursday by Husain. When a final value for the estate is determined, it will likely be split evenly between Ansari and Khan’s daughter, he said.
“He died without a will, so under Illinois law it would be split 50-50,” Husain said. “The only difference is 50-50 of what?”
Khan and his partner, Shakir Mohammed, a childhood friend from their native India, signed the 40-page agreement last May 2, according to a copy obtained by the Tribune. A sentence in bold on page 23 states, “Members shall transfer their interest to their respective spouse upon member’s death.
Khan, 46, won the lottery prize later in May and died suddenly in mid-July before he collected the check.
“I don’t believe he ever thought he’d be passing away so soon thereafter,” Husain said.
Meraj Khan said Khan went into business with Mohammed to help his friend gain legal status in this country. In return, Mohammed agreed to help pay off the balance of the property Khan purchased for the dry cleaners, she said.
Tribune efforts to reach Mohammed and his attorney were not successful Thursday.
As the Tribune first revealed last month, the Cook County medical examiner’s office initially ruled that Khan died from hardening of the arteries after no signs of trauma were found on his body and a preliminary blood test did not raise any questions. But the investigation was reopened about a week later after a relative raised concerns that Khan may have been poisoned.
Chicago police became involved in September after further testing found cyanide in Khan’s blood. By late November, more comprehensive testing showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical, leading the medical examiner’s office to declare his death a homicide.
Last month authorities exhumed Khan’s body in order to perform an autopsy and gather additional evidence. No results have been made public yet.
While a motive for Khan’s homicide has not been determined, police have not ruled out that he was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune.