Relatives say Russia sends a message with Chechen’s slaying

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BERLIN (AP) — Relatives of a Chechen man shot dead in Berlin two years ago accused the Russian government on Wednesday of trying to “send a message” to its political enemies with his slaying, the German news agency dpa reported.

A 56-year-old Russian man is on trial in the German capital, accused of carrying out the brazen daylight killing that federal prosecutors say was ordered by Russia.

The victim was Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who had fought Russian troops in Chechnya and later claimed asylum in Germany.

A lawyer for seven relatives of Khangoshvili asked the Berlin district court in a final statement Wednesday to sentence defendant Vadim Krasikov to life in prison and disqualify him from customary automatic parole after 15 years, dpa reported. Under German law, victims or their surviving relatives can take part in a trial as co-plaintiffs.

Their statement came after German federal prosecutors on Tuesday said they were seeking the same penalty for Krasikov, who had come to Germany under the alias Vadim Solokov. Prosecutor Lars Malskies alleged the defendant had traveled to Berlin in August 2019 at the behest of the Russian government for a “state-contracted killing,”

The defense is expected to make its closing statement next week and a verdict could be reached within days. No pleas are entered in the German trial system, but the defendant said at the start of his trial that he had been misidentified and was a 50-year-old born in Russia, not a 55-year-old born in Kazakhstan as alleged.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has called the allegations of Russian involvement in the Berlin killing “absolutely groundless.”

The verdict has the potential to further inflame tensions between Berlin and Moscow, providing an early foreign policy test for Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Months after the killing, his predecessor Angela Merkel expelled two Russian diplomats, prompting a similar response from Russia.

The following year, Germany stepped in after the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, flying him to Berlin for medical treatment. Navalny says he was poisoned by Russian agents, which Russia denies.

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