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Slobodan Praljak wrote death note before poisoning himself

The Bosnian-Croat war chief who killed himself during his his war crimes trial at The Hague left a death note behind for his family, it has been revealed.

Slobodan Praljak, 72, requested no funeral or grave and instead asked that his ashes be scattered over the Mirogoj cemetery in the Croatian capital Zagreb.

Praljak left behind a wife, Kaćuša Babić, and while the couple had no children of their own, he was reportedly close with his two step-children, who took his last name. 

The news emerged as Dutch authorities said they have begun an autopsy on his body to try an establish what liquid he drank, but no results were available yet. 

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

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

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 letter was written two years ago and stored at his apartment in Zagreb with orders not to open it until after his death, a family friend said.

The scholar-turned-general was first convicted of war crimes in 2013 and sentenced to 20 years in jail.

Praljak was at a hearing to appeal the sentence on Wednesday when he died.

As the judge was in the process of upholding the punishment Praljak stood up, declared 'I am not a war criminal' then downed a mystery liquid from a small bottle.

The court was quickly closed and medical teams rushed to the scene, but several hours later Praljak was pronounced dead.

Dutch police are now investigating how he was able to get the poison, with lawyers, guards and court officials all being treated as suspects. 

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. 

'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.

Praljak appeared to drink the poison seconds after losing his appeal at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, in The Hague, Netherlands

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

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

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

Praljak was an intellectual and scholar before becoming a politician and later a general and is still revered by some in his home country

'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.

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.   

Praljak's lawyer shouted out 'my client has taken poison' before the courtroom was closed and medical teams rushed to the scene

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

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

Slobodan Praljak, center, enters the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, Wednesday, to hear the verdict in the appeals case

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. 

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