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'Russian Hitman' Trial Opens In Berlin


The suspect is accused of shooting dead a Georgian national in Berlin's Kleiner Tiergarten park last year. (file photo)

The trial of a Russian man began on October 7 over the assassination of a former Chechen commander in a Berlin park, allegedly on Moscow's orders.

Vadim K., also known as Vadim S., whose full name was withheld in line with German privacy laws but has been widely reported as Vadim Krasikov, stands accused of shooting dead a Georgian national identified by German authorities as 40-year-old Tornike K. in Kleiner Tiergarten park on August 23 last year.

German media have named the victim as Zelimkhan "Tornike" Khangoshvili.

As the trial began under tight security and coronavirus precautions, the defendant made a short statement through his lawyer, Robert Unger, saying that he was a 50-year-old born in Russia, not a 55-year-old born in Kazakhstan as alleged.

“I am Vadim Adreyevich Sokolov, not Vadim Nikolayevich Krasikov," he said. “Such a person is not known to me."

The defendant had traveled to Germany on a Russian passport issued in the name of Vadim Sokolov.

According to the German indictment, he is accused of being contracted by “state agencies of the central government of the Russian Federation” to carry out the killing.

The alleged killer "took the contract, either for an unknown sum of money or because he shared the motive of those who gave the contract to liquidate the [victim] as a political enemy in revenge for his role in the second Chechen war and participation in other armed conflict against the Russian Federation,” the indictment reads.

Khangoshvili was a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who fought Russian troops in Chechnya. He had previously survived several assassination attempts and continued to receive threats after fleeing in 2016 to Germany where he had been granted asylum.

In their indictment, German prosecutors allege that there is ample evidence indicating official Russian involvement in the crime.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has called the allegations of Russian involvement in the Berlin killing "absolutely groundless."

Germany expelled two Russian diplomats in December over the case, prompting Russia to oust two German diplomats in retaliation.

Allegations of Russian involvement in the 2015 hacking of the German parliament and the theft of documents from Chancellor Angela Merkel's own office, as well as the poisoning in August of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny have raised the tensions between Berlin and Moscow.

The growing tensions between the two countries comes at a sensitive time, as Germany and Russia continue to push together for the completion of Nord Stream 2, a joint pipeline project to bring Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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