Jail Rules Probed in Milosevic Death
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
PARIS, March 14 -- Former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic received special privileges in prison that could have allowed him access to medicines that had not been prescsribed for him but that a Dutch doctor identified in his blood samples two weeks ago, according to court authorities.
Milosevic, who was found dead in his cell at a prison near The Hague Saturday at age 64, was given an office that was not monitored by prison authorities when he was working there or meeting with visitors, according to a tribunal spokeswoman, Alexandra Milenov. Lawyers, diplomats and some of the others who called on him there in connection with his trial were subject to less thorough searches than family visitors.
An unnamed tribunal official told the Associated Press on Tuesday that guards at the prison repeatedly found unprescribed drugs and alcohol in Milosevic's cell. Milenov declined comment on those reports and on possible links between his privileges and unauthorized medications. But other court officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they saw a possible connection.
Milosevic died of a heart attack, according to autopsy results, but the mystery over what caused his heart to stop continued Tuesday. Relatives claimed he was poisoned, but some Dutch authorities said it appeared that he took unprescribed medicines in an effort to reduce the effectiveness of medications he had been prescribed for his high blood pressure and heart problems. The authorities have speculated that Milosevic was trying to build an argument for being allowed to go to Russia for treatment.
On Tuesday morning, the three-judge panel hearing Milosevic's case assembled for the last time in the courtroom. The presiding judge, Patrick Robinson, announced the official conclusion of the tribunal's highest-profile case, four years after it began.
Milosevic's death just months before the scheduled end of his trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity -- charges stemming from the Balkan wars of the 1990s -- prompted the tribunal to order an investigation of prison procedures. The court also is probing the suicide of another Serb war crimes defendant in the prison six days before Milosevic's death.
"Mr. Milosevic had a privileged setting in the detention unit," said Milenov, the spokeswoman. "He had his own office and space, he could make phone calls that were not monitored and interview his witnesses and consult with defense attorneys."
The court gave Milosevic the office because he was defending himself against 66 charges in a complex case. He also had the assistance of several attorneys in research and court presentations. Defense attorneys and other trial-related visitors must walk through metal detectors and submit their bags to X-ray examination when they enter the prison but are not subject to physical searches or frisks, which are required for relatives or other personal visitors, tribunal officials said.
Prison guards conduct daily inspections of cells and office space, according to Milenov, and are "vigilant about anything that can be a danger to any detainee or that is not permitted under certain rules." She added that "the accused is also checked quite comprehensively before he sees visitors and after."
Milosevic's son Marko, who lives in exile in Russia, arrived in the Netherlands Tuesday to take possession of the body.
In Belgrade, officials from the Socialist Party, which was founded by Milosevic, said they were nearly certain that the body would be flown to Belgrade and that a funeral would be held there, although without the trappings of state honors.
In a gesture to the family, a Belgrade court on Tuesday lifted an arrest order against Mirjana Markovic, Milosevic's widow, on charges of corruption connected with a real estate scandal. However, the court said Markovic, who also lives in Russia, would have to deposit her passport with the government while in Serbia and Montenergro and appear in court to answer questions about alleged crimes of the Milosevic government.
Marko Milosevic indicated that his mother was not satisfied with the conditions. He also accused the tribunal of causing his father's death. "He got killed. He didn't die," he told Associated Press television. "There's a murder."
A condolence message from 30 war crimes suspects detained in The Hague was published in Belgrade newspapers. Among the signatories was Ante Gotovina, a Croatian general who fought Serb forces and was apprehended in December.
Williams reported from Belgrade.