United Nations

Dutch officials don’t know how Balkan war criminal got poison for courtroom suicide

  • Slobodan Praljak swallowed potassium cyanide live on TV during an appeal hearing of the former Yugoslavia war crimes court in The Hague in November 2017
PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 8:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 November, 2018, 8:07pm

Dutch prosecutors admitted on Friday they had not managed to establish how a Bosnian Croat war criminal got the poison he used in his courtroom suicide in front of UN judges.

The conclusion came almost a year after 72-year-old Bosnian Croat commander Slobodan Praljak swallowed potassium cyanide at an appeal hearing of the former Yugoslavia war crimes court in The Hague.

The hearing was being broadcast live around the world at the time.

“The investigation has not shown in what way and at what point in time Mr Praljak had obtained the potassium cyanide he used,” the Dutch public prosecution service said. “No criminal offences were established.”

Praljak, in a last show of defiance against the now-closed International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), took the poison from a small brown bottle on November 29 last year.

Moments before, UN judges had upheld his 20-year jail term for war crimes committed during Bosnia’s bloody 1992-1995 war.

Praljak died some two hours later of heart failure at a Hague hospital. It was one of the most dramatic days at the tribunal, which was set up in 1993 to prosecute those it decided were responsible for war crimes committed during the bloody 1990s Balkans wars.

Investigators said on Friday they believed Praljak “had been considering suicide for some time”.

“He had already had his items packed for shipment to Croatia and said goodbye to people on several occasions,” a statement said.

Detectives also found a suicide note after his death in which he told his family he decided “a long time ago” he would end his life should he lose the appeal in his case.

“It can’t be excluded that Praljak already had the poison in his possession for a long time,” the prosecutors’ office said. “Potassium cyanide can be stored in its dry form and suicide only requires a very small quantity. In this context, it isn’t strange that the importation or storage of the substance wasn’t noticed.”

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Praljak, who worked in film and theatre before joining the military, is still a hero to many Croats despite his conviction.

Croatian news reports said he was buried at a private funeral in Zagreb.