Warlord who killed himself at the Hague 'may have had poison smuggled to him when suit was delivered for court appearance', says security expert who claims toxin may be toilet cleaner
- Slobodan Praljak appeared at The Hague to appeal 20-year war crime sentence
- As judge upheld the punishment, he drank poison from a vial in his pocket
- Mate Lausic, who is familiar with security at The Hague, speculated that the poison could have been brought to him in a suit for his trial
- Lausic believes the guards skipped a 'sterilisation check' that might have identified the poison, which he said could have been toilet cleaner
The Bosnian-Croat war chief who killed himself during his his war crimes trial at The Hague could have had the poison smuggled to him in a suit he was given before the hearing, a court witness has said.
Slobodan Praljak, 72, downed an unknown substance in front of cameras yesterday as his 20-year sentence for war crimes was upheld before dying hours later.
Mate Lausic, a witness at the trial of three generals who is familiar with court security, told Croatian newspaper 24sata that Praljak's suit was the most likely way for the vial to enter.
Shock: Slobodan Praljak, 72, shouted 'I am not a war criminal!' and drank from a small bottle during his war crimes hearing at The Hague before dying hours later
Mystery remains over how he got the vial, though a person familiar with court security said it could have been smuggled to him in a suit he was given for the hearing
'The case had lasted for 13 years so everything was more relaxed. In the cell the suspect gets a suit to go to court. The “sterilisation” check was not done,' he said.
This could have allowed someone to smuggle Praljak the poison, or for him to have acquired it himself in prison and taken it through security.
A former prisoner at Scheveningen, where criminals at The Hague are held, said it would not have been difficult to get the poison in jail.
He said: 'Prisoners in Hague are not treated like criminals. They are not strict or violent to them. Most of us there were generals, so they treated us like that.
'Slobodan Praljak was a behaving like a gentleman so they were approaching him like that as well. If he wanted to get poison, he could easily get it.
'Someone has helped him on purpose. One needed to know exactly what poison to get and where to get it. Someone has fulfilled his last wish. I am convinced it was someone from the personnel of the Hague court.
'Checks during visits were not that strict. However, the visitor would risk a high fine and the inmate would be sent into a more strict cell.
'Praljak would not risk that. Therefore, I am still convinced that some court employee gave it to him in a very last moment.'
Asked what substance was used, Lausic added: 'Possibly it was some chemical used for cleaning toilets.'
A prominent lawyer who has frequently defended suspects at the war crimes court told The Associated Press that, once the poison was in his possession, it would have been easy for Praljak to bring it into court.
Toma Fila said security for lawyers and other court staff 'is just like at an airport'.
Security officers inspect metal objects and confiscate cellphones, but 'pills and small quantities of liquids' would not be registered, Fila said.
Florence Hartmann, a former spokeswoman for the Court, told Jutanji that Slobodan Milosevic had managed to get into court with a blood pressure medication that he had taken during his trial without being picked up by guards.
Lawyers, security guards and court officials are all now potential suspects in Praljak's case, the paper added.
Praljak was one of six Croatian politicians sentenced to jail for their involvement in a campaign to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat mini-state in Bosnia in the early 1990s.
A former prisoner at Scheveningen, where criminal held by The Hague are detained, said he believes a court official handed Praljak the vial at the last moment
Bosnian Croat people gathered to light candles for Praljak in the Bosnian town of Mostar on Thursday after it was confirmed he had died
Praljak was an intellectual and scholar before becoming a politician and later a general and is still revered by some in his home country
His lawyer shouted out 'my client has taken poison' before judge Carmel Agius suspended the hearing and the courtroom was closed.
Moments after Praljak drank the liquid, ambulance crews arrived at the scene and a helicopter began hovering overhead.
Several emergency rescue workers, some of them wearing helmets and with oxygen tanks on their backs, rushed into the building while court officials called for calm.
A spokesman for the tribunal confirmed he died after 'he drank a liquid while in court and quickly fell ill'.
Nenad Golcevski added: 'One of the six defendants... passed away today in the HMC hospital in The Hague' despite efforts to save him in hospital.
Croatia's state-run TV service said he died in hospital in the Netherlands, a statement which was later confirmed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, who offered condolences to his family.
Mr Plenkovic said at a press conference that 'we have all unfortunately witnessed his act by which he took his own life'.
'His act mostly speaks about a deep moral injustice towards six Croats from Bosnia and the Croatian people ... We voice dissatisfaction and regret about the verdict.'
Judge Agius declared the courtroom to be a crime scene as he restarted the hearing, though gave no further details.
Dutch police also said an investigation had been launched.
Praljak's lawyer shouted out 'my client has taken poison' before the courtroom was closed and medical teams rushed to the scene
Several medical vehicles were seen outside the court while a helicopter hovered overhead, but Croatian state TV reported medics were unable to save Praljak
Slobodan Praljak, center, enters the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, to hear the verdict in the appeals case
Praljak was sentenced to 20 years in jail along with his co-conspirators back in 2013, though it is not clear if he began serving that sentence before his appeal.
Bosnian Croats and Muslims were allies against the Serbs but fought each other for 11 months from 1993-1994.
Praljak, a Croatian politician and general in the the Croatian Army, also commanded Bosnian Croat forces known as the HVO from July to November 1993.
During this time, Praljak and his allies were trying to establish the 'Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia' - an ethnically Croatian enclave, with the city of Mostar as it's 'capital'.
The Herzeg-Bosnia republic was declared by the Bosnian Croats in 1993, but as part of the peace agreement in 1994, it merged with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina that we know today.
Mostar saw the worst of the Croat-Muslim clashes, with nearly 80 per cent of the city's east destroyed in the fighting.
Praljak was specifically charged with ordering the destruction of Mostar's 16th-century bridge in November 1993, which judges in the first trial had said 'caused disproportionate damage to the Muslim civilian population'.
A symbol of Bosnia's devastation in the war, the Ottoman-era bridge was later rebuilt.
But in their ruling, the judges in fact allowed part of Praljak's appeal, saying the bridge had been a legitimate military target during the conflict.
'It's just an old bridge,' Praljak said in 1993, showing no regard for the emotional effect the destruction had on ordinary Bosnians of all ethnic backgrounds.
Praljak, a Croatian politician and general in the the Croatian Army, also commanded Bosnian Croat forces known as the HVO from July to November 1993
Praljak and his allies were trying to establish the 'Croatian Republic of Herzeg-Bosnia' - an ethnically Croatian enclave, with the city of Mostar as it's 'capital', during the Bosnian War
Praljak was a Bosnian Croat writer and film and theater director turned wartime general. His indictment said he also worked as a professor of philosophy and sociology.
He was found guilty of crimes that included murder, persecution and inhumane treatment as part of the plan to drive Muslims out of a would-be Bosnian Croat territory in Bosnia.
In the past, two Serbs have taken their lives while in the tribunal's custody.
In July 1998, Slavko Dokmanovic, a Croatian Serb charged with in the deaths of over 200 Croat prisoners of war, was found dead in his prison cell in The Hague.
Milan Babic, a wartime Serbian leader who was closely cooperating with prosecutors, took his life in a prison tribunal cell in March 2006.
Wednesday's hearing was the final case at the groundbreaking tribunal before it closes its doors next month.
The tribunal, which last week convicted former Bosnian Serb military chief Gen. Ratko Mladic of genocide and other crimes, was set up in 1993, while fighting still raged in the former Yugoslavia. It indicted 161 suspects and convicted 90 of them.
The appeals judges upheld a key finding that Croatia's late President Franjo Tudjman was a member of the plot to create a Croat mini-state in Bosnia.
The finding angered Croatian leaders, but was largely overshadowed by Praljak.
The original trial began in April 2006 and provided a reminder of the complex web of ethnic tensions that fueled fighting in Bosnia and underlies frictions in the country even today.
Croatian Prime Minister Plenkovic said that his country's leadership during the Bosnian war could 'in no way be connected with the facts and interpretations' in the appeals judgment
WAR CRIMINAL: THE BOSNIAN-BORN CROAT WHO WANTED AND 'ETHNICALLY PURE' REPUBLIC
Guilty: Slobodan Praljak was one of the leaders of plot to create a Croatian republic in Bosnia-Herzegovina
Slobodan Praljak, 72, was born in Capljina, a small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina close to the Croatian border.
After working as a film and TV producer as well as a lecturer in Zagreb, he joined the Croatian army in 1991 advancing to major general.
In March 1992 he became Croatian Deputy Minister of Defence and was later assigned to Croatia's State Commission for relations with the United Nations Protection Force ('UNPROFOR').
He had been brought before the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal accused of establishing and participating in creating an 'ethnically pure' Croatian republic within modern Bosnia-Herzegovina between 1991 to 1994.
The UN tribunal found him guilty of the above as well as participating 'in the ethnic cleansing of the town and municipality of Prozor, of the municipality of Gorjni Vakif, of the towns of Sovici and Doljani, and of the municipality of Mostar, notably by attacking Bosnian Muslims, by the pillage and theft of their property, by massive arrests and by inflicting upon them cruel treatment, sexual violence, killings and other forms of persecution.'
As head of the Bosnian Croat forces known as the HVO, he was responsible for several prison camps where Bosniak Muslims were detained and abused, some of which was so severe that inmates died in the camps.
Slobodan Praljak voluntarily surrendered to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on 5 April 2004.
He was charged with nine counts of grave breaches of the Geneva conventions - including wilful killing; inhuman treatment (sexual assault); unlawful deportation and confinements of civilians - nine counts of violations of the laws or customs of war - including cruel treatment unlawful attack on civilians and unlawful infliction of terror on civilians - and eight counts of crimes against humanity - including persecutions on political, racial and religious grounds; murder; rape; deportation; inhumane acts and imprisonment.