A suspected Russian spy who was officially working as a diplomat has been found dead in Berlin after apparently falling from an upper floor of the embassy complex, it has emerged.
The dead man was on Friday identified as the son of Lt-Gen Alexei Zhalo, one of the most senior figures in the FSB intelligence service, the successor agency to the KGB.
Lt-Gen Zhalo heads the FSB’s powerful Office for the Protection of the Constitutional System, which has been linked to the poisoning of Alexei Navalny and two prominent Russian journalists.
The suspected spy has not been officially named but an investigation by the Bellingcat website identified him as Kiril Zhalo, Lt-Gen Zhalo’s 35-year-old son.
German police found his body on the pavement outside the Russian embassy on October 19, but details only emerged on Friday.
Authorities are understood to believe he was himself an FSB officer working under diplomatic cover in Germany.
Russia has refused permission for an autopsy and the cause of death remains “unclear”, according to German security sources quoted by Spiegel magazine.
A spokesman for the Russian Embassy described his death as a “tragic accident” and said Russia would not comment further for “ethical reasons”.
Lt-Gen Alexei Zhalko
“We consider speculations that appeared in a number of Western media in the context of this tragic incident to be absolutely incorrect,” a spokesman told Russia’s Tass news agency.
The Office for the Protection of the Constitutional System is a division of the FSB primarily tasked with domestic security.
A joint investigation by Bellingcat and Mr Navalny found that officers from a clandestine unit within it shadowed the Russian opposition leader for years and were in the vicinity when he was poisoned.
Vadim Krasikov, a Russian national currently on trial in Germany over the alleged murder of a man who fought against Russia in the Second Chechen War, has also been linked to the FSB division.
Krasikov is accused of the 2019 murder of Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian national, in what prosecutors allege was a state-sponsored assassination ordered by the Kremlin.
Kiril Zhalko was posted to Berlin in June 2019, just two months before Khangoshvili was shot dead in a city park in broad daylight. There is no evidence he was connected to the killing.
His death comes less than three months after David Smith, a 57-year-old security guard at the British Embassy in Berlin, was arrested for passing classified secrets to Russia. Again, there is no evidence linking Zhalko to that incident.
The Russian Embassy in Berlin
Credit: ODD ANDERSEN
Zhalko is the latest in a striking number of Russian diplomats posted around the world to meet their deaths in unexplained circumstances.
They include Vitaly Churkin, the Russian ambassador to the United Nations, who was found dead in 2017. An initial autopsy found further study was needed to determine the cause of his death, but details of the findings were made secret because he had diplomatic immunity.
Sergei Krivov, a Russian diplomat, was found dead with a severe head wound at the New York consulate on the day of the 2016 US election. Initial reports suggested he fell from the consulate roof, but consular officials later claimed he died of a heart attack in his office.
Alexander Kadakin, the Russian ambassador to India, died after a brief illness in January 2017.
The same month Andrei Malanin, the head of the consular department at the Russian embassy in Greece, was found dead at his Athens home.
Mirgayas Shirinsky, the Russian ambassador to Sudan, was found dead in the swimming pool of his Khartoum residence in August 2017.
The mysterious deaths have not been limited to diplomats. Oleg Erovinkin, a former FSB general believed to have helped the former MI6 spy Christopher Steele to compile a dossier on Donald Trump, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow in December 2016.
Zhalko’s is not the first death to be linked to a fall at the Russian embassy complex in Berlin. A 49-year-old porter fell to his death from his apartment balcony inside the complex in 2003.