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Slobodan Praljak at ICTY
Image: ICTY

Prosecutors investigate Praljak's courtroom death

November 30, 2017

Examiners have found traces of a "lethal chemical product" in the bottle Slobodan Praljak drank from. The war criminal died after a tribunal rejected his appeal of the 20-year sentence given to him for atrocities.


The Netherlands' Public Prosecution Service will look into the death of Slobodan Praljak, the agency announced. The investigation will focus on the suspected poison Praljak took in the courtroom before the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) on Wednesday and whether he had received any outside help in obtaining the substance. Examiners have found traces of a "lethal criminal product" in the bottle Praljak drank from, and an autopsy will be conducted soon.

"The Public Prosecution Service The Hague has received a request of the ICTY to investigate the death of Praljak," the agency announced on its website. "For the time being, the inquiry will focus on assisted suicide and violation of the Medicines Act. "

After the beleaguered tribunal rejected his appeal of a 20-year sentence for atrocities, Praljak yelled: "Slobodan Praljak rejects the verdict with contempt." The 72-year-old then drank from a small bottle and later died in the hospital.

Initially, mostly Muslim Bosniaks had allied with ethnic Croatians against Serbs backed by Belgrade in the war, which lasted from 1992 to 1995. However, the Bosniaks found themselves fighting on two sides when the partnership collapsed. The war killed 100,000 people and displaced 2.2 million.

'Ultimate purpose'

The tribunal found the men guilty of attempting to cleanse Croat-claimed territory of Muslims. On Wednesday, judges upheld the terms given to Praljak five co-defendants, including the 25 years given to Jadranko Prlic — the former prime minister of the country's wartime breakaway Croat statelet, Herzog-Bosna, with its capital in Mostar — and terms ranging from 10 to 20 years for the four other defendants.

Read more: ICTY Hague Tribunal ends prosecutions of Yugoslav war crimes but legacy lingers

In statements sure to anger Zagreb, the judges upheld the original trial's finding that the men had worked for a joint criminal enterprise whose "ultimate purpose was" to set up "a Croatian entity that ... facilitated the reunification of the Croatian people."

Slobodan Praljak on TV
People gathered across Bosnia to watch Wednesday's verdictImage: picture-alliance/AP/A. Emric

The ICTY charged Praljak with ordering the destruction of the 16th-century bridge in Mostar in 1993. On Wednesday, judges allowed part of Praljak's appeal, calling the bridge "a military target at the time of the attack," but they refused to reduce his sentence. The bridge was rebuilt with many of the original stones after the war.

The tribunal closes December 31 after having indicted 161 people. The United Nations established the ICTY in 1993 after the wars' atrocities — largely committed in the name of Serbia, and sometimes with Belgrade's assent or backing — had come to light, but long before the killing came to an end. Last week, the ICTY had sentenced the Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic to life for the atrocities he ordered during the war.

mkg/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)

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