A suspect arrested last week over the killing of a Chechen dissident in Berlin was carrying a passport whose number linked him to Russian security services, news magazine Der Spiegel and others reported on Friday.
Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, who fought against Russia during the second Chechen war in the early 2000s, was shot twice in the head at close range in the Kleiner Tiergarten park in central Berlin just before midday last Friday.
A Russian national who was detained near the scene after being spotted throwing a bicycle and a gun into the River Spree was carrying visa documents that identified him as 49-year-old Vadim Andreevich Sokolov, born in Irkutsk, Siberia and based in St Petersburg.
However, a person of such name can not be found in Russia’s national passport register nor in the country’s driving licence register, Der Spiegel reported. At a Paris hotel listed as a residence in the visa documents, receptionists could not recall having seen the man, researchers for Der Spiegel found.
Instead, a joint investigation by the German magazine and research platforms Bellingcat and The Insider found the passport number could be linked to a unit within Moscow’s interior ministry that has in the past issued ID documents for the military security service GRU.
The researchers’ findings add further fuel to suspicions of a state-backed assassination similar to the attempt carried out against the former Russian military officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, Britain, in 2018.
On Wednesday the Kremlin denied any involvement in the killing, which took place on the same day that Germany’s foreign minister was visiting Moscow.
“I categorically reject any link between this incident, this murder and official Russia,” said Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov.