U.N. Death Mystery: So Far, No Evidence of Foul Play

Austrian authorities say so far there is no evidence of foul play in the death of Tim Hampton, a British seismic expert who died last month after falling 12 stories down an internal staircase at a United Nations building in Vienna. A private pathologist hired by Hampton's widow also told NEWSWEEK she had found no evidence of foul play, even though a British tabloid, the Daily Mail, quoted her saying that the death "did not look like suicide." Prof. Kathrin Yen, a prominent pathologist based at the Ludwig medical institute in Graz, Austria, denied to NEWSWEEK that she had informed the Daily Mail that she had found evidence which would contradict a finding of suicide during her examination of Hampton's body. She said she did not recognize quotes that the newspaper attributed to her in an article published over the weekend that carried the headline "British nuclear expert's 17th-floor U.N. death plunge 'was not suicide.'" Yen, who also participated in the high-profile postmortem examination of Austrian neofascist leader Jörg Haider, who died in a car accident, told Der Standard, an Austrian newspaper, that she had "no idea" where the implications of murder had come from, and she confirmed to NEWSWEEK by telephone and in an e-mail that the Austrian paper's account of her views is accurate.

Gerhard Jarosch, spokesman for the public prosecutor's office in Vienna, told NEWSWEEK that a separate postmortem on Hampton's body, which is being conducted by a different pathologist at the request of Austrian authorities, is not yet complete. But he said that if that investigation had turned up any evidence of foul play, he expected that the pathologist would have promptly notified the prosecutor's office, and his office has received no such notification. Jarosch said he expected the official pathologist's report to be delivered within a week or two following the completion of toxicology tests.

Jarosch said that because the U.N. complex where Hampton worked as a scientist for the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) is covered by diplomatic immunity, Austrian authorities normally would not be allowed to conduct an on-site investigation or interview witnesses at the complex. But in this case, he said, the U.N. has given permission for Austrian police to conduct interviews on its territory. While the apparent explanation for Hampton's death "seems to be suicide," Jarosch said, the police investigation is still continuing and a formal conclusion on the cause of death has yet to be reached. He said he was unaware of any possible motive Hampton might have had for killing himself.

Some news reports that circulated shortly after Hampton's death suggested that he had somehow been connected with critical nuclear negotiations between the U.S., the IAEA, other Western powers, and Iran which were underway in the U.N. complex where he worked. However, the CTBTO denied that Hampton had any connection whatsoever to the Iran negotiations, and no evidence has emerged to substantiate the early reports suggesting an Iran connection.