The lawyer for a former Croatian general who died after apparently swallowing cyanide at a war crimes hearing in the Netherlands said Tuesday he might have planned on taking his life long before that day.
Nika Pinter told the Associated Press in an interview that Gen. Slobodan Praljak had asked his family not to be present at the trial hearing Wednesday and left “a letter back in 2012 or even earlier, saying or asking how his funeral has to be.”
“Nowadays, I can make some combination and conclusion that he had a plan in his head and that he wanted to protect his family of seeing something like that,” she said, speaking in English. “But it’s just my conclusion. I don’t have any firm evidence for that.”
On Wednesday, Praljak drank from a small bottle that he said contained poison, seconds after an appeals judge at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia confirmed his 20-year sentence for war crimes during the 1992-95 Bosnian war, including murder and deportation of Bosnian Muslims.
Dutch prosecutors said after an autopsy he had cyanide in his system.
Pinter said that Praljak killed himself because he could not accept living as a convicted war criminal.
“At the very beginning when we started to work on this case, he told me: listen, for one minute I don’t want to be a war criminal,” she said.
Pinter said she thought he meant that she should work hard to collect facts and evidence that he did not commit war crimes.
“I really never, really never thought that he would do something like that,” Pinter said, adding that after defending Praljak for 14 years in the tribunal, they became friends.
“I know there is a judgment, I recognize the judgment but I don’t respect the judgment,” she said.
The U.N. tribunal ordered an independent review of its internal operations following the death. The tribunal said its review was meant to complement the ongoing investigation of Praljak’s death by Dutch prosecutors, including possible answers on how Praljak got the poison.
Croatia’s authorities raised doubts about whether security and medical staff at the tribunal responded quickly enough.
Pinter said that she remembers little about the confusion in the courtroom after Praljak’s actions.
“I don’t know the scene. I was broken. I put my head in my hands and I cannot describe it. It was a big shock for me. So sorry, I even never looked at the video, I couldn’t. And I don’t know if I will ever look at it,” she said.
AP Writers Dusan Stojanovic and Jovana Gec contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.