Several months before authorities believe he was poisoned to death, north side businessman and lottery winner Urooj Khan signed an agreement saying his interest in a dry cleaning operation would go to his wife in the event of his death.
That’s according to an attorney involved in Cook County probate proceedings to settle his estate, which along with Khan’s untimely death has caused fissures among family members.
Sorting through the legal issues has become difficult, too, because Khan left no will.
On Thursday, attorney Al-Haroon Husain told reporters after a brief hearing in probate court that Khan and his business partner hatched an "operating agreement" last spring making their spouses direct heirs in their stake of the business should either of them die.
That means Shabana Ansari, Khan’s widow, would inherit his share of the business, Husain argues. He also said that under a "joint tenancy" ownership agreement, Ansari would also be the sole heir to the family’s West Rogers Park home as well another piece of real estate.
"Those two items his wife is getting automatically -- will not go to anybody else in the estate -- namely his daughter," Husain told reporters after a brief court hearing in the matter.
The matter is still pending in circuit court, but Husain believes the law is on Ansari’s side.
"The law is clear on what it is -- I believe that the operating agreement states the business will go to the wife and that is what Mr. Khan signed off [on], I believe, in April or May before his passing. Also with his primary house, he signed off….His wife will get it upon his death.”
Less clear, Husain said, is why Khan decided to ink an "operating agreement" with his business partner.
Husain -- who over the years had been a business advisor to Khan -- said such agreements aren’t unusual, but was "surprised" that a business deal like this listed heirs. Typically that’s done in a will.
"I was a bit surprised by the operating agreement saying that all shares go to his wife, but it’s the choice of the individuals," Husain said, adding at one point: "The only thing I can believe is that he wanted to make sure that his wife had business and had attachment to the commercial property if something happened to him."
He said that only the two business owners signed the deal -- no one else.
Pressed about whether the agreement seems suspicious considering Khan died two or three months later, Husain said: “It’s unusual, but I don’t want to speculate beyond that. It was my client’s wishes, I don’t think he thought he would be passing away so soon.”
Khan died July 20th, 2012, a month after winning a million-dollar lottery jackpot.
His wife, Ansari, told the Sun-Times last month -- when the case came to light -- that the night before he died she had made him a traditional Indian meatball meal for dinner. He went to bed but fell sick and collapsed in the middle of the night.
He was pronounced dead at an Evanston hospital.
Khan’s death was initially declared natural: hardening of the arteries.
But a relative called and told the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office that they needed to take a closer look.
Indeed, a more extensive toxicology test showed he had died from cyanide poisoning and his death was declared a homicide in November.
Last month, his body was exhumed and even more testing was done on the body to determine how the poison got in to his body -- perhaps by inhaling it or even eating something tainted with the cyanide.
Test results haven’t come back yet, according to the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
Ansari, 32, denied any involvement in her 46-year-old husband’s death, adding that she’s been cooperating with the police investigation.
“No, I loved him to death,” she told the Sun-Times last month, fervently denying she had a hand in his death. “I loved him and he loved me the same way.”
A homicide investigation is underway, but no one has been charged and no suspects have been identified in the case.
Since Khan’s death, his teenaged daughter has moved out of the family’s Chicago home and is staying with an aunt and uncle.
But Khan’s brother, Imtiaz Khan, has been concerned that Khan’s teen-aged daughter would walk away from this penniless and has requested the probate judge force Citibank to release his brother’s “account information and assets,” according to court filings. He’s also publicly criticized Khan’s wife and father-in-law.
An attorney representing the teen in probate case left the Daley Center without commenting on Thursday; she couldn’t be reached later by phone.
Initially, Khan’s estate was valued at $2 million. But Anari’s attorney in the probate case is arguing that since she is the heir to the business and real estate – worth about $1.32 million – and that’s no longer part of the estate that would be left to his heirs.
That would mean the estate is worth about $680,000, which includes the proceeds of his lottery win, Husain said.Without a will, state law dictates that his two survivors — his wife and teen daughter would split the $600,000-plus, he said.