Vojislav Seselj has been found not guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity over the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
The UN war crimes court at The Hague said the Serbian ultra-nationalist had neither borne individual responsibility for the crimes, nor known about them nor endorsed them.
Vojislav Seselj had denied the charges. In his first reaction, he said the court had reached the only verdict possible.
Croatia’s prime minister condemned the verdict as “shameful”.
“I’m absolutely convinced that the victims’ communities and many people will not be satisfied with this outcome,” Serge Brammertz said.
Vojislav Seselj was allowed to go to Belgrade in 2014 after being diagnosed with cancer and was not present in the courtroom.
He had even refused the tribunal’s offer to follow the verdict by video link.
The radical has been taking part in anti-government rallies ahead of Serbian parliamentary elections in April.
Vojislav Seselj was a close ally of the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. He served as Serbian deputy prime minister from 1998 to 2000.
He surrendered to the UN court (the ICTY) voluntarily in 2003. When the ICTY sought to appoint a defense lawyer against his wishes, he went on hunger strike.
The indictment charged Vojislav Seselj with three counts of crimes against humanity and six of war crimes for inciting ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia and the Serbian province of Vojvodina in the period August 1991-September 1993.
On the most serious charge of crimes against humanity, presiding Judge Jean-Claude Antonetti said the prosecution “had failed to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that there was a widespread and systematic attack against the non-Serb civilian population in large areas of Croatia and Bosnia.
“The evidence tendered and considered establishes instead that there was an armed conflict between enemy military forces with civilian components.”
Prosecutors had argued Vojislav Seselj was criminally responsible for the murder, torture and deportation of non-Serbs as part of his project to create a “Greater Serbia”.
They had accused him of raising an army of volunteers who committed “unspeakable crimes”.
However, the trial chamber found that there was no “criminal purpose in sending volunteers” – and, moreover, they had not been under Vojislav Seselj’s command.
“The majority simply notes that it is not satisfied that the recruitment and subsequent deployment of volunteers implies that Vojislav Seselj knew of these crimes on the ground, or that he instructed or endorsed them,” it said.
The verdict also concluded that the “Greater Serbia” plan Vojislav Seselj had supported was not a “criminal”, but “political”, project.
Croatian PM Tihomir Oreskovic criticised the outcome as “a defeat for the Hague tribunal and the prosecution”.
Vojislav Seselj had consistently berated the tribunal, challenging its legitimacy – and regretting the fact that it could not pass a death sentence on him.
On March 31, Vojislav Seselj said he wanted 14 million euro in compensation against the UN tribunal.