Results of tests on Milosevic released

No significant drugs, poisons are found

March 18, 2006|By TOM HUNDLEY | TOM HUNDLEY,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LONDON -- Preliminary toxicology tests released yesterday on former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic found no evidence of poison or the presence of other drugs in quantities sufficient to kill him.

Milosevic had a fatal heart attack in his prison cell in The Hague a week ago, ending his four-year trial on charges of war crimes and genocide.

His family says he was poisoned. Others suspect suicide. The findings, disclosed in a letter from The Hague district public prosecutor, are likely to deepen the controversy.

Milosevic suffered from high blood pressure and a heart condition. In blood samples taken in January, doctors were startled to discover traces of an unprescribed drug that would have had calamitous consequences for someone with high blood pressure. That finding has fueled speculation that Milosevic might have been trying to manipulate his health to persuade the war crimes tribunal to allow him to seek treatment in Russia.

The drug, rifampicin, is normally used to treat tuberculosis.

Yesterday's report from the Dutch prosecutor said that "so far, no traces of rifampicin were found," but cautioned that the drug "disappears from the body quickly and the fact that no traces were found implies only that it is not likely that rifampicin had been ingested or administered in the last few days before death."

The report also noted that "a number of medicines prescribed for Mr. Milosevic were found in the body material, but not in toxic concentration."

The final autopsy report is expected next week.

In December, Milosevic petitioned the tribunal to allow him to seek medical treatment in Moscow. The tribunal declined, saying that adequate treatment was available in the Netherlands. When Milosevic was informed of the presence of rifampicin in his system earlier this month, he immediately wrote a letter to the Russian government suggesting that someone was trying to poison him. He died two days later.

Since his death, tribunal officials have acknowledged that Milosevic was allowed special privileges in The Hague detention center that would have made it fairly easy for someone to smuggle in drugs and other contraband. Because he was acting as his own attorney, Milosevic was given a private room where he interviewed witnesses and met with legal advisers. These visitors were not subjected to rigorous searches or screening procedures.

The tribunal will turn over Milosevic's medical record to the state prosecutor, who is conducting an investigation into the death.

Judge Fausto Pocar, the tribunal's president, has ordered a separate investigation into practices and procedures at the detention center where prisoners are held during trial.

Milosevic is to be buried today in his hometown of Pozarevec, about 30 miles from Belgrade. Serbian authorities rejected requests from the former leader's Socialist Party for a state funeral.

It was unclear yesterday whether Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic, would attend the funeral. Markovic, who lives in Moscow, is wanted on criminal charges in Serbia.

Serbian officials said they would lift the arrest warrant on the condition that she surrender her passport and appear in court for questioning.

Tom Hundley writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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