Germany links Russian agents to Berlin assassination, expels diplomats

Forensic experts at the scene of the assassination in a Berlin park on 25 August

Forensic experts at the scene of the assassination in a Berlin park on 25 August

German federal prosecutors announced on Wednesday that they are taking over investigations into the murder of a Georgian asylum-seeker in Berlin, confirming earlier reports.

Khangoshvili, 40, who was shot dead in the Kleiner Tiergarten Park, Berlin, on August 23, was a field commander during the second Chechen War (1999-2009), which is why he was wanted and continuously persecuted by Russian Federation.

The case has been compared with the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal in Britain a year ago with a Soviet-era nerve agent, widely blamed on Russian intelligence.

That attack was also blamed on Moscow - leading to the expulsion of dozens of Russian diplomats and triggered a diplomatic crisis between the United Kingdom and Russia.

After Germany's move on Wednesday, a Russian foreign ministry representative pledged "retaliatory measures".

The suspect was detained shortly after the killing when he was allegedly seen dumping a bike, pistol and a wig into the nearby River Spree. According to the prosecutor's office, the police bulletin for Vadim K. was deleted in July of 2015; less than two months later, a new Russian passport was issued to Vadim S.

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.

The German foreign ministry said it was responding in this way because Russian authorities had not cooperated in investigations into the murder.

He says "what do Russian authorities have to do with it?" and called the allegations "absolutely groundless suggestions".

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Chechnya is now run by Ramzan Kadyrov, a former rebel who switched sides and is now fiercely loyal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Outlining how they made that connection, German authorities say they were able to match a photograph of the suspect with a photograph from a "wanted" bulletin that was spread on police databases after the Moscow killing.

He left Paris on August 20 and flew to Warsaw where he had a hotel booked until August 25.

But the company was not operational and a fax number for the firm was registered to another company belonging to Russia's defence ministry. The killer also approached the victim on a bicycle.

Using facial recognition techniques, investigators were able to match the suspect to a photograph as part of request for help Russian Federation sent to partner agencies in 2014 seeking the arrest of Vadim K. for a killing in Moscow.

German media said the suspicion was that Russian intelligence agencies had recruited him.

The victim was a veteran of the Second Chechen War, which lasted from 1999-2009, and fought against Russian Federation as a separatist, before moving to Germany in 2016, German media reported. Khangoshvili is said to have spent several years living in Georgia under the name of Tornike Kavtarashvili.

Bellingcat said he "recruited and armed" a volunteer unit to fight Russian troops in Georgia in 2008.

The Foreign Ministry immediately announced the expulsion of two Russian diplomats following the announcement, citing a lack of cooperation with the investigation of the August 23 killing of the 40-year-old man in the capital.

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