Bottle that Croatian war criminal drank from in court before dying contained 'chemical substance,' tests show
Slobodan Praljak stunned The Hague court when he gulped down liquid after judge confirmed 20-year sentence
A deadly chemical was in the container from which a Croatian war criminal drank shortly before dying, a Dutch prosecutor said Thursday, as an independent investigation into the dramatic death of Slobodan Praljak continued.
"There was a preliminary test of the substance in the container, and all I can say for now is that there was a chemical substance in that container that can cause death," prosecutor Marilyn Fikenscher said in a telephone interview. She declined to elaborate on the exact nature of the substance.
Praljak, 72, stunned the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia on Wednesday when he gulped liquid from a small bottle seconds after a UN appeals judge had confirmed a 20-year sentence.
The former wartime commander of Bosnian Croat forces said in court that he had taken poison. He was rushed to a hospital in The Hague, where he died, tribunal spokesperson Nenad Golcevski said.
Fikenscher said an autopsy, including toxicological tests, will be carried out soon on Praljak's body.
Praljak's lawyer, Nika Pinter, said Thursday that she never expected him to kill himself and doesn't know how he obtained the fatal liquid given the court's strict security.
Pinter told the Hina news agency "it never occurred to me that he could do something like that."
Pinter described Praljak as "an honourable man who could not live with the war crimes conviction and leave that courtroom handcuffed."
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said Thursday that Praljak wanted to send a message to the UN court that the verdict against him was unjust. Plenkovic said the former general was "obviously shaken by the possibility he would be convicted" of war crimes for his actions during Bosnia's 1992–95 war.
Fikenscher said the Dutch investigation will look into how Praljak managed to take the small bottle of poison into the tribunal's tightly guarded courtroom.
On Thursday, the tribunal's Golcevski declined to comment on the security situation at the court or its detention centre, saying "there is an independent investigation ongoing and … these are issues that will likely be addressed by that investigation."
He also would not give details of who had visited Praljak in the days and weeks before Wednesday's events, citing privacy considerations.
Praljak and five other former Bosnian Croatian officials were convicted as part of a criminal plan to carve out a Bosnian Croat mini-state inside Bosnia in the early 1990s. All had their guilty verdicts sustained by the UN's war crimes court Wednesday. Praljak's conviction was in 2013.
Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic offered condolences to Praljak's family. Praljak's actions reflected the "deep moral injustice" done to the six Bosnian Croats, the prime minister said.
Croatian state TV reported that President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic cut short an official visit to Iceland and the government held an emergency session.
Mourning among Bosnian Croatians
Hundreds of Bosnian Croats have been lighting candles in public squares in cities around the country in honour of Praljak.
Praljak's photos were plastered in Croat-dominated cities around Bosnia on Thursday where police presence was increased to prevent incidents.
"Praljak was a legend for us … He will live forever in our hearts," said Ivica Gavric, who was a member of the Bosnian Croat forces during the war.
Meanwhile, the European Union has called on the Balkan leaders to respect the rulings of the UN war crimes court and work to achieve reconciliation and good relations.
"Delivering justice and fighting impunity are fundamental principles," the EU delegation in Bosnia said in a statement Thursday.