German Prosecutors Take Up Case of Russian Assassin

BERLIN (AFP) — German prosecutors in charge of intelligence cases will take over an investigation of the killing of a former Chechen rebel commander by a Russian national in Berlin, German media reported Tuesday.

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

Khangoshvili was shot twice in the head at close range by a man whom witnesses saw throwing a stone-laden bag with his gun into the river.

German police shortly afterward 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,” the respected newsweekly Der Spiegel reported, adding that federal prosecutors were 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, has 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 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 reported.

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

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

The man has been charged with murder but 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 officials established that no such person existed in Russia’s national citizen database.

The news site said the suspect’s passport number has been traced to a unit of the Russian interior ministry which in the past has 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” — a standard comment after such assassinations.

© Agence France-Presse

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