German spy prosecutors to take over Russian killer probe, say reports

The murder was compared to the attempt on Sergei Skripal (seen here, left) — Reuters pic
The murder was compared to the attempt on Sergei Skripal (seen here, left) — Reuters pic

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BERLIN, Dec 3 — German prosecutors in charge of intelligence cases are due to take over an investigation into the killing of a former Chechen rebel commander by a Russian national in Berlin, German media reported today.

Despite Russian denials, some German politicians and media have blamed Moscow for the assassination of 40-year-old Georgian national Zelimkhan Khangoshvili in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23.

Khangoshvili was shot twice in the head at close range in an execution-style killing by a man who was reportedly seen by witnesses throwing a stone-laden bag with his gun into the river.

German police shortly afterwards arrested the man, a 49-year-old from the Russian republic of Chechnya who has been named officially only as Vadim S.

“The Federal Prosecutor’s Office suspects Russian state agencies of having commissioned the murder,” Der Spiegel said, adding that federal prosecutors were preparing to take over the case “in the coming days”.

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung daily and ARD television also reported federal prosecutors would step in this week.

The killing has been compared to the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain last year, which London blamed on Russian intelligence.

Der Spiegel, in a joint inquiry with investigative websites Bellingcat and The Insider, earlier reported how the Russian secret services—or the regime of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov—may have been involved in Khangoshvili’s killing.

Bellingcat said the victim had fought for the Chechens in the second Chechen war in 1999-2002, then continued supporting Chechen separatists from his native Georgia.

In 2008, he “recruited and armed” a volunteer unit to fight Russian troops in Georgia in 2008, it added.

After surviving two assassination attempts in Georgia, he had spent recent years in Germany and applied for political asylum.

Der Spiegel said police had recovered a wig they think the suspect wore during the attack, an air ticket for Moscow for the following day and a large sum of cash in his apartment.

The man has been charged with murder but has reportedly refused to speak to investigators.

The joint media investigation named him as Vadim Andreevich Sokolov, a Russian national from Siberia.

While he had a valid passport, Bellingcat said they had established that no such person existed in Russia’s national citizen database.

The site said the suspect’s passport number has been traced back to a unit of the Russian interior ministry which has already in the past delivered identity documents for Russian military intelligence.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in the days after the killing that it had “nothing to do with the Russian state”. — AFP

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