A Russian agent has been found guilty of murdering a former Chechen rebel in a Berlin park that a court in Germany said was on orders from Moscow.
Vadim Krasikov was sentenced to life in prison for killing Zelimkhan ‘Tornike’ Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen with Chechen heritage, in 2019 in an act of “state terrorism”.
The court’s finding that Russian authorities ordered the killing of a man whose political activities had made him a thorn in their side could increase pressure on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz‘s new government to take a firmer stance against Moscow.
The victim had fought alongside Chechen separatists seeking independence from Russia in the second Chechen war of the early 2000s.
Crime was a ‘professional operation’
Judge Olaf Arnoldi said: “In June 2019 at the latest, state organs of the central government of the Russian Federation took the decision to liquidate Tornike Khangoshvili in Berlin.”
Mr Khangoshvili was killed by three shots from a pistol fired in broad daylight on a sunny August day – and the murder prompted calls for Western governments to crack down on the activities of Russian operatives in their countries.
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Judge Arnoldi said the “extremely serious” crime was a “professional operation” that could not have been carried out without local assistance in Berlin.
Krasikov had flown to Paris several days before the hit, equipped with a false passport and thousands of euros in cash, and then travelled to Berlin.
Shot as he cycled through the park
He shot Mr Khangoshvili as he cycled through the park, before hiding in a bush to remove his dark clothes and baseball cap, trim his beard and then put on different clothing to look like a tourist strolling through Germany‘s capital.
Only the presence of witnesses thwarted his plan, the judge said.
Within minutes, armed police surrounded Krasikov while others pulled his clothes, the murder weapon and Mr Khangoshvili’s bike out of the river where the agent had thrown them.
The judge acknowledged that Mr Khangoshvili, who had lived in exile since an earlier attempt on his life in Georgia in 2015, was himself a killer.
But he added: “Four children lost their father, two siblings their brother.
“Some media suggested that Russia or even (Russian president) Vladimir Putin are on trial here. That’s misleading: only the convict is on the bench.”
The Russian embassy in Berlin said the verdict was “not objective, and politically motivated”, TASS news agency reported.