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Probe fails to unravel mystery of Croat’s courtroom suicide

FILE - In this ICTY file photo dated Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017, Slobodan Praljak drinks from a bottle after proclaiming his innocence shortly after hearing an appeals judge confirmed his 20-year sentence for crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. The Hague Public Prosecution Service says in a written statement issued Friday Nov. 2, 2018, they have failed to unravel the mystery of how Croatian ex-general Praljak managed to smuggle a bottle of poison into a United Nations courtroom to take his own life. (The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) via AP)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Dutch prosecutors said Friday they have closed their investigation without unravelling the mystery of how a Croatian ex-general managed to smuggle poison into a United Nations courtroom and take his own life, seconds after an appeals judge confirmed his 20-year sentence for war crimes.

Slobodan Praljak committed suicide Nov. 29 last year, proclaiming his innocence and then drinking from a small bottle containing potassium cyanide. He collapsed in court and died in a Dutch hospital about two hours later.

The dramatic scene of the 72-year-old former commander of Bosnian Croat military forces lifting his trembling right hand to his mouth and drinking the liquid was streamed live on the court’s website.

In a written statement, The Hague Public Prosecution Service said that a months-long investigation failed to establish “in what way and at what point in time Mr. Praljak had obtained the potassium cyanide he used.”

Police and prosecutors studied surveillance camera footage from the court, interviewed witnesses and searched Praljak’s U.N. cell.

The prosecutors concluded that no criminal offenses were committed in Praljak’s suicide.

Prosecutors said that a handwritten “farewell letter” to his family was found in his cell at the United Nations Detention Unit where he had been held for years as his trial and appeal for crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war progressed at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

In the letter, he wrote “that he had already decided to put an end to his life a long time ago, should he be found guilty,” the prosecutors said.

The probe said that potassium cyanide can be stored as a dry powder and only a tiny amount is fatal.

“In this context, it isn’t strange that the importation or storage of the substance wasn’t noticed,” prosecutors said.

An internal inquiry by the U.N. war crimes tribunal found that staff at its detention unit and headquarters followed all relevant procedures.

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