Accessibility links

Dutch Autopsy Shows Dead War Criminal Had Cyanide in System


Bosnian Croats hang a flag displaying a portrait of General Slobodan Praljak and a message that reads, "Your sacrifice will never be forgotten," as people pray and light candles for the convicted general, who killed himself seconds after a judge at a U.N. tribunal confirmed his sentence for war crimes, in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Nov. 29, 2017.

A former Croatian general who died after swallowing a liquid at a war crimes hearing in the Netherlands had cyanide in his system, Dutch prosecutors said after an autopsy was performed Friday.

Preliminary results from a toxicological test revealed "a concentration of potassium cyanide" in Slobodan Praljak's blood, the Hague Public Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

The cyanide caused heart failure, which investigators "pointed out" as Praljak's "suspected cause of death," according to the prosecutor's statement.

On Wednesday, Praljak, 72, drank from a small bottle that he said contained poison seconds after an appeals judge at the U.N.'s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia confirmed his 20-year sentence for crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital a little while later.

Bosnian Croat Pero Pervisic, 49, a friend of the late Slobodan Praljak, pays his respects in front of house where Praljak was born, in Capljina, Bosnia, Nov. 30, 2017. On the house are posters reading, "Our hero."
Bosnian Croat Pero Pervisic, 49, a friend of the late Slobodan Praljak, pays his respects in front of house where Praljak was born, in Capljina, Bosnia, Nov. 30, 2017. On the house are posters reading, "Our hero."

Meanwhile, the United Nations tribunal ordered an independent review of its "internal operations" following the dramatic event in its courtroom. The tribunal said its review was meant to complement Dutch prosecutors' investigation of Praljak's death.

The announcement came after Croatia's justice minister raised doubts about whether security and medical staff at the tribunal responded quickly enough when Praljak raised the bottle to his lips with a trembling right hand and consumed its contents.

Before the toxicological test results came back, Dutch prosecutors had confirmed the bottle carried a toxic chemical. It remains unclear how Praljak, who was in custody before the hearing, obtained the substance and smuggled it into the courtroom.

In this September 1991 photo, Slobodan Praljak poses near a front line in Sunja, Croatia. Praljak stunned the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Nov. 29, 2017, when he gulped down liquid from a small bottle seconds after a U.N. appeals judge had confirmed a 20-year sentence against him.
In this September 1991 photo, Slobodan Praljak poses near a front line in Sunja, Croatia. Praljak stunned the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Nov. 29, 2017, when he gulped down liquid from a small bottle seconds after a U.N. appeals judge had confirmed a 20-year sentence against him.

The tribunal's review will begin next week and will be led by Hassan Jallow, a former prosecutor with the U.N.'s Rwanda war crimes tribunal. It aims to file a report by December 31, when the tribunal formally closes its doors, having completed all its cases.

The court says Jallow "is mandated to undertake an assessment of relevant existing procedures as well as make any recommendations which may assist other courts in the future."

Tribunal spokesman Nenad Golcevski said it was not the first time such a probe had been ordered by the court.

"Similar internal reviews have been initiated, for example, after the death of Slobodan Milosevic," Golcevski said, referring to the former Yugoslav president who died in his tribunal cell in 2006 before judges could deliver verdicts in his trial.

Two Croatian experts observed the autopsy on Praljak's body at the tribunal's request.

Late Thursday, Croatian Justice Minister Drazen Bosnjakovic said the country would ask Dutch authorities to be included in the investigation into Praljak's death.

FILE - Bosnian people watch the live TV broadcast from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague as Slobodan Praljak brings a bottle to his lips, in Mostar, Bosnia, Nov. 29, 2017.
FILE - Bosnian people watch the live TV broadcast from the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague as Slobodan Praljak brings a bottle to his lips, in Mostar, Bosnia, Nov. 29, 2017.

Bosnjakovic told Croatia's state TV that "much remains unclear, including how the poison was taken in, why security didn't react in time and why medical help arrived so late." He added that Croatia wants "all facts cleared about this tragic event."

Praljak's attorney, Nika Pinter, told Croatia's Nova TV she did not know how Praljak got the bottle past security.

"But that was his decision, his decision," Pinter said. "He would not want to live for one day with handcuffs on his hands, and [the] stigma of war criminal on his back."

XS
SM
MD
LG