The death of Slobodan Milosevic was shrouded in mystery and deepening controversy last night as Dutch pathologists examined his corpse and it emerged that he had claimed he was being slowly killed by doctors.
Milosevic's body was removed from the detention centre at the war crimes tribunal in The Hague to the Netherlands forensic institute for a postmortem examination and toxicological testing.
Last night a preliminary postmortem report said that he had died of heart failure. His remains were to be released to his family today.
How Monday's Russian newspapers are covering Milosevic's death. Photo: Denis Sinyakov/AFP/Getty Images
Yesterday the 64-year-old former Serbian and Yugoslav president's lawyer revealed a six-page letter - dated last Friday, 24 hours before his death - that Milosevic wrote to the Russian government alleging he was being deliberately administered the wrong drugs for his illnesses.
"Persons that are giving me the drug for the treatment of leprosy surely cannot be treating me. Especially those persons against whom I have defended my country in the war and who also have an interest in silencing me can likewise not be treating me," Milosevic said in a handwritten letter to the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.
Milosevic had a long history of heart disease, hypertension and high blood pressure. He was also found to be ignoring Dutch medical advice while on trial for the past four years and to be taking drugs other than those prescribed. His family has a history of suicide; his parents and a favourite uncle killed themselves.
Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor in The Hague, said yesterday that Milosevic, found dead in his cell on Saturday morning, might have killed himself. "According to our valuations, [the trial] would have ended with a verdict requesting he be shut away for life. Perhaps he wanted to avoid all that," Ms Del Ponte told the Italian paper, la Repubblica. But tribunal sources said the most likely explanation for his death was natural causes.
While Milosevic claimed in his letter that he was being deliberately administered the wrong medicine, he also has a record of taking unprescribed drugs and refusing treatment advised by his Dutch doctors.
Eighteen months ago, during courtroom wrangles over whether he was fit enough to stand trial on 66 counts of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, the judges in the case ordered two independent medical examinations.
They found that Milosevic was occasionally refusing to take the drugs prescribed for his condition, and taking other drugs he said he got from his "Serbian doctor". Last November, Milosevic staged an hour-long harangue in the court, arguing that the Del Ponte prosecution team was "the source of his ill-health" and that he was being "exposed to torture."
He demanded that he be released to receive medical treatment in Russia where his wife and son live. The court denied the request last month, ruling that medical treatment in the Netherlands was quite adequate. Ever since the November outburst, Mirko Klarin, a long-time observer of the trials in The Hague, has argued that Milosevic had no intention of seeing the trial through to its conclusion, which was expected in a few months. "This is his final revenge on the tribunal," said Mr Klarin.
Serbian nationalists and Milosevic loyalists seized on the mystery to claim Milosevic was poisoned, though it is not clear who had anything to gain from his death.
Last night a spokeswoman for the war crimes tribunal, Alexandra Milenov, said the postmortem revealed Milosevic had been suffering from two heart conditions. She did not name the conditions, but said the doctors determined they might have caused the heart attack. She also said toxicological tests were still to be carried out.
Asked if poisoning could have caused the heart attack, Ms Milenov said it was too early to draw conclusions.
She said that the inquiry into Milosevic's death, ordered by tribunal president Fausto Pocar, was continuing. "I think we should also wait for that until we come to any final conclusions," she said, adding that the final report was expected to be released in a matter of days.
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