Tiergarten Murder Trial: Prosecution calls for life imprisonment


Status: 07.12.2021 7:55 p.m.

The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in the zoo murder trial calls for life imprisonment and the determination of the particular severity of the guilt. The accused acted on behalf of Russian government agencies.

By Silvia Stöber, tagesschau.de

An act for political motives that is equivalent to an execution – that was the conclusion of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in the zoo murder trial. The defendant had shown with a “snap shot” on the back of the head of the victim, who was already lying motionless on the ground, that he had sought the “annihilation” of the Chechen-born Georgian Tornike Kavtarashvili, alias Zelimkhan Khangoshvili.

Federal Prosecutor Nikolaus Forschner justified the particular reprehensibility of the act before the Berlin Court of Appeal. In the plea that he presented with Federal Prosecutor Lars Malskies, he demanded a life sentence and the determination of the particular gravity of the guilt.

Retaliation on an enemy of the state

The perpetrator acted on behalf of Russian government agencies. As an officer of the Russian domestic secret service FSB with the rank of colonel, he deliberately placed himself in the service of his clients. The motive can be found in the victim’s opposition to Russia. Khangoshvili fought in a militia in the Russian North Caucasus between 2000 and 2004 and participated in asymmetrical warfare.

The Russian leadership regarded him as a terrorist. Among other things, he was on a list of the FSB with alleged members of the Islamist “Caucasian Emirate”. President Vladimir Putin described Khangoshvili as a “bandit” and a “terrorist”.

For the assessment of the act, it is not decisive whether the victim was actually a terrorist, according to Forschner. The aim of the act was retaliation, and one could not speak of a “preventive killing”. Because Khangoshvili has not posed any danger since he came to Germany as an asylum seeker in 2016. The classification as a “hazard” was withdrawn in 2018.

Monopoly of violence attacked

Forschner accused the Russian leadership of “radically disregarding the rule of law”. By the act on German soil, the sovereignty and the monopoly of force of the Federal Republic were called into question. The murder in broad daylight in the busy Kleiner Tiergarten had shaken people’s sense of security and justice in Germany. The testimony of witnesses in court a year after the fact had made it clear that many who were present at the time were still traumatized.

The act was also intended to deprive Chechens living in Germany and other Russian citizens of the security that they would be safe from the Russian state. Forschner reminded that the Russian authorities had not made an extradition request for Khangoshvili in order to be able to bring him to justice for possible criminal offenses. Apparently there was no interest in it.

Brave witnesses

In the plea, which lasted several hours, Forschner and Malskies described how the act “obviously planned well in advance” and how the Russian authorities created the cover identity of Vadim Sokolov. The defendant apparently received support from an accomplice in spying on the victim, obtaining the crime scene and placing the escape vehicle, an electric scooter, near the scene of the crime.

Forschner praised the courage of two witnesses who observed the perpetrator on the Holsteiner Ufer while he was changing clothes in a bush and immediately called the police, who were already nearby. Only then could the perpetrator, who had professionally changed his appearance, be caught before he could disappear undetected as a tourist.

Journalists provided important clues

In his statements on the identity of the accused and the state background to the crime, Malskies also relied on research by the research platform Bellingcat, the Russian investigative medium “The Insider” and the “Dossier Center”. There were also investigations by the Ukrainian authorities and the testimony of a witness from eastern Ukraine, the alleged brother-in-law of the defendant.

This knowledge can be used even if the aforementioned are critical of the Russian state and even if they were obtained illegally in another state. In addition, the circumstantial evidence and evidence would be supported by the results of the investigative authorities in Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, France and Cyprus. The authorities in Russia and Turkey did not help.

Judgment may be before Christmas

The Federal Prosecutor agreed with the defense that statements by the accused may not be used in discussions with investigators. The ban on the use of cross-references applies because, contrary to his claim, the accused was questioned without a lawyer and it was not pointed out that his statements may not be valid.

After the pleadings of the co-plaintiffs and the defense, the verdict could be reached in the coming week. If the court follows the arguments of the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the new federal government will be faced with the challenge of finding an appropriate political answer.


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