Kremlin denies Russian government involvement in Berlin murder

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Kremlin on Wednesday denied the Russian government had been involved in the murder of a Georgian citizen in Berlin, hours before Germany expelled two Russian diplomats over what it said was Moscow’s refusal to cooperate in the investigation.

The Kremlin denial came after a legal source on Tuesday said German federal prosecutors believed that Russian intelligence agencies had been linked to the killing.

Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, who had previously fought alongside anti-Moscow separatists in Chechnya, was shot twice in the head in a central Berlin park in August as he was heading to a mosque.

German prosecutors have now taken over the murder case and said they believe there are sufficient leads to suggest that either Russia or the Russian region of Chechnya ordered the hit.

Asked about allegations of Russian involvement before reports of the diplomatic expulsions broke, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday that Russian authorities had nothing to do with the murder.

“I don’t think there are serious suspicions (of involvement by the Russian authorities) and there cannot be any. What relation to the Russian authorities (does this have)?,” said Peskov.

“This is absolutely groundless speculation. This topic is being somehow whipped up by German media, but this does not mean that this is how things are,” Peskov said.

Allegations of Russian involvement could potentially damage Russia’s ties with Germany and the West that are already strained over an array of issues including the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in southern Britain last year.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Paris summit on the conflict in east Ukraine next week.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth and Maria Kiselyova; editing by Andrew Osborn