Germany expels 2 Russian diplomats in probe of Chechen War veteran’s killing

Federal German prosecutors on Wednesday took over the investigation of a brazen daylight slaying of a Georgian man on the streets of Berlin, after concluding evidence suggests it was ordered either by the government of Russia or the Chechen republic.

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

“Russian authorities, despite repeated, high-level and insistent demands, did not participate enough in the investigation,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It did not identify the names or the functions of the two diplomats being expelled.

Berlin’s decision marks an escalation in already heightened tensions between Russia and Germany and other Western countries following the poisoning last year of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, on British soil.

Prosecutors’ spokesperson Markus Schmitt told The Associated Press his office decided to take over the investigation from Berlin state prosecutors after the political nature of the case that has come to light.

“There are enough indications of the fact that the death of Tornike K. was either contracted by government offices of the Russian Federation or the autonomous Chechen republic as part of the Russian Federation” to suggest a political motive, Schmitt’s office said in a statement, using only a last initial for the victim in line with German privacy laws.

Russia scoffed at the suggestion, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling reporters there are “no serious suspicions there, and there can’t be.”

People carry the body of the victim who has been identified as Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian Muslim during the funeral in Duisi village, the Pankisi Gorge valley, in Georgia on Aug. 29. Germany’s foreign ministry says it has expelled two Russian diplomats after prosecutors announced they suspected Moscow’s involvement in the brazen daylight slaying of Khangoshvili. (Zurab Tsertsvadze/The Associated Press)

“What do Russian authorities have to do with it?” he asked, calling the allegations “absolutely groundless suggestions.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the “politicized approach to the investigation is inappropriate” and promised to take “reciprocal measures.”

Speaking on the sidelines of a NATO meeting in London, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she planned to talk about the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin when she meets with him face-to-face next weeks for talks on the Ukraine peace process in France.

“We have received no active help from Russia in solving this case,” she said, sidestepping a question on whether it would harm bilateral relations between the two nations.

Tornike K., who has widely been identified in reports on the killing by his alias Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, was a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who fought against Russian troops in Chechnya. He had previously survived multiple assassination attempts and continued to receive threats after fleeing to Germany.

Police were able to quickly identify and arrest a suspect, identified as 48-year-old Russian national Vadim K., who has been in custody since the slaying. Prosecutors said he also went by the alias Vadim S., and German and international news outlets have reported he had links to organized crime in Russia.