Bellingcat Statement on Verdict of Berlin Kammergericht (Tiergarten Murder)

December 15, 2021

Today, a Berlin court passed a guilty verdict of life imprisonment against a 56-year-old Russian citizen for the planned assassination of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Chechen dissident residing in the German capital. Judges reportedly stated that as the man bore “particularly grave responsibility” for the killing, he would not be entitled to automatic parole after 15 years’ time served.

Materials and testimony from Bellingcat researchers played a key role in the prosecution, establishing that the assassin had in fact operated under a cover identity. Our contribution filled the gap left by Russian authorities who refused to provide German prosecutors with information on the actual identity of the killer.

In August 2019, the 40-year-old Khangoshvili was killed by three shots from a silenced pistol in Berlin’s Kleiner Tiergarten. The killer, who rode up to the victim on a bicycle, was quickly apprehended by German police and identified as ‘Vadim Sokolov’.

Nevertheless, within a week Bellingcat was able to reveal that the suspect had travelled under a false name. We were unable to find ‘Vadim Sokolov’ in any of the extensive Russian databases to which we had access — including the Russian passport database. Later research showed that ‘Vadim Sokolov’ had been issued with an international passport, tax identification number and other documents required to receive a Schengen Visa just days before he applied for one. This was, in our estimation, a strong indication of state-level intervention in producing a cover identity.

In December 2019, we established the real identity of the suspect. ‘Vadim Sokolov’ is in fact Vadim Krasikov, previously the key suspect in the murder of a Russian businessman in 2013. Nearly all records of the existence of Krasikov had been purged from Russian state databases; a criminal case file in his name does not exist in the country’s central police database, despite multiple references to the 2013 crime. We then discovered that this individual had ties to one of the FSB’s Spetsnaz units known as “Vympel”, along with other cases of Russian state-sponsored activity. As the trial began in Berlin, further evidence emerged confirming our prior identification of Vadim Krasikov, including family photos showing the same tattoo and scar as ‘Vadim Sokolov’.

Crucially, Bellingcat notes the court’s conclusion that the murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili was carried out on behalf of state authorities of Russia — making this one of the first successful trials of an alleged state-sanctioned murder on European soil in recent history.

A press statement by the Kammergericht (in German) is available here.