German court convicts Russian of 2019 Berlin park murder

by Reuters
Wednesday, 15 December 2021 12:05 GMT

(Adds Russia's reaction in sixth paragraph)

By Thomas Escritt

BERLIN, Dec 15 (Reuters) - A German court on Wednesday found Russian Vadim Krasikov guilty of murdering Tornike Khangoshvili, an ethnic Chechen of Georgian nationality, in a central Berlin park in 2019 on orders from Moscow and sentenced him to life imprisonment.

Khangoshvili had fought alongside Chechen separatists seeking independence from Russia in the Second Chechen War of the early 2000s.

"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," judge Olaf Arnoldi said.

The murder - three shots from a Glock pistol in broad daylight on a sunny August day - further stoked east-west tensions, prompting calls for Western governments to crack down on the activities of Russian operatives in their countries.

The court's finding that Russian state security ordered the killing of a man whose political activities had made him a thorn in their side could heighten pressure on Chancellor Olaf Scholz's new government to take a firmer stance against Moscow.

The Russian embassy in Berlin said the verdict was "not objective, and politically motivated", TASS news agency reported.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday threatened Russia with "massive consequences", both economic and diplomatic, if Russia infringed Ukraine's sovereignty amid warnings that Moscow could be preparing an invasion.

Acknowledging that Khangoshvili, who had lived in exile since an earlier attempt on his life in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2015, was himself a killer, 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 from there journeyed to Berlin.

He shot Khangoshvili as he cycled through the park, before hiding in a bush to remove his dark clothes and baseball cap, trim his beard and don the clothes of a tourist strolling through Germany's capital.

Only the presence of witnesses thwarted his plan, Arnoldi said. Within minutes, armed police surrounded Krasikov while others fished his clothes, the murder weapon and Khangoshvili's bike out of the river where the agent had thrown them.

"Four children lost their father, two siblings their brother," the judge said.

"Some media suggested that Russia or even (Russian president) Vladimir Putin are on trial here," he added. "That's misleading: only the convict is on the bench."

Security experts warn that agents established at large legacy embassies in former Soviet allies in eastern Europe can easily travel anywhere in the European Union.

The year before the killing, Russian agents poisoned a former Russian agent and his daughter in a provincial English city. (Reporting by Thomas Escritt; additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Editing by Riham Alkousaa, Hugh Lawson and Giles Elgood)

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