In August this year, Chechen exile Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was shot dead in a central Berlin park in broad daylight by a man on a bicycle, who was identified by eyewitnesses and picked up by the police shortly afterwards.
The German government has so far refused to point the finger at Russia, despite the fact that the 49-year-old hitman holds a Russian passport. However, it could soon be forced to make a statement after the German attorney general’s office this week took over the investigation, as it suspects that Russian intelligence agencies were behind the murder.
“We have evidence that a foreign intelligence agency was behind it and therefore the case is going to be taken over by the federal prosecutor this week,” an unnamed source told Reuters.
The prosecutors’ announcement that they are investigating the case, ramps up pressure on Angela Merkel to address the possibility of Kremlin’s involvement, and take actions which will likely cause diplomatic relations between the two countries to deteriorate.
The victim, Khangoshvili, was a Georgian national, who had fought against Russia in the second Chechen war in 2001-2005, and had fled to Germany after surviving two attempts on his life in Georgia in 2009 and 2015. He had still not been granted asylum at the time of his death.
Shortly after he was shot in Tiergarten park, the Kremlin issued a statement saying that it categorically rejected “any link between this incident, this murder and Russia.”
According to an investigation by Bellingcat and Der Spiegel, the alleged murderer travelled to Germany on a passport under the name Vadim Sokolov, but his real name is Vadim Krasikov and he is a suspect in the 2013 murder of a Russian businessman in Moscow.
The Berlin killing echoes the Skripal case in the UK last year, when two Russian agents attempted to murder former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury. The attempted murder on British soil led to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between London and Moscow.