Germany expelled two Russian diplomats on Wednesday as it opened a formal investigation into suspicions the Kremlin was behind the killing of a man in central Berlin.
In the first diplomatic fall-out from what German government sources have described as a “second Skripal case”, Angela Merkel’s government summoned the Russian ambassador on Wednesday morning and ordered two of the embassy staff to leave the country within seven days.
The two diplomats concerned are believed to be Russian intelligence officers, according to local media reports.
The German foreign ministry said they had been declared persona non grata in protest at Russia’s failure to cooperate with investigations into the killing of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian national shot dead in a Berlin park in August.
The expulsions come as federal prosecutors responsible for issues of national security announced they were taking over the case on Wednesday.
“There is sufficient factual evidence that the killing was carried out on behalf of state agencies of the Russian Federation,” federal prosecutors said in a statement.
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Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian who fought against Russia in Chechnya and had links with Georgian intelligence, was shot dead from behind by a cyclist in broad daylight in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten park in August.
The suspected killer was captured by police attempting to dispose of a gun believed to be the murder weapon in the nearby river Spree.
He was carrying a Russian passport which identified him as Vadim Sokolov, but German prosecutors on Wednesday confirmed that they now believe that is a false identity.
Police findings indicate that it is “highly likely” the arrested man is Vadim Krasikov, a Russian national previously wanted for the murder of a businessman in Moscow in 2013, prosecutors said.
Russia issued an Interpol international arrest warrant for Mr Krasikov in 2014, but withdrew it a year later without explanation.
German prosecutors said there was “currently no evidence” to suggest Khangoshvili was killed by “non-state actors”.
“The investigation has revealed no evidence of any connection between the accused and the victim, let alone a personal motive for the accused. There is no evidence of a link to organized crime or to Islamist terrorism,” they said.
Khangoshvili survived an earlier assassination attempt in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, in 2015, after which he fled to Ukraine where he is believed to have worked closely with the authorities against Russian interests.
He applied for asylum in Germany in 2017, claiming his life was in danger. His initial application was rejected but he appealed and the case was unresolved at the time of his death.