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‘Pure provocation’: Moscow fumes as Czech media names diplomat a ricin courier in alleged assassination plot

‘Pure provocation’: Moscow fumes as Czech media names diplomat a ricin courier in alleged assassination plot
The Czech media has outed an employee of a Russian foreign aid agency as a suspect in an assassination plot against Prague officials. His boss dismissed the allegations as ”pure provocation.”

“Our representative is a young man fluent in Czech, who is fond of the country and loves it,” Head of Rossotrudnichestvo Eleonora Mitrofanova told Ria Novosti. “This is baseless pure provocation on the part of the Czech authorities.”

Mitrofanova’s agency acts to further cultural ties and humanitarian projects. But one of its employees, Andrey Konchakov, is now at the center of a diplomatic scandal between Russia and the Czech Republic, which has recently blown up into a fully-fledged spy thriller. The plot thickened further after Czech media identified the acting head of the Prague branch of Rossotrudnichestvo as a suspected spy, who had allegedly smuggled ricin poison into the country for a would-be assassination.

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According to television channel CT1, Czech intelligence received a tip about Konchakov from a foreign agency. However, when he arrived in Prague on March 14 supposedly carrying the toxin in his briefcase, they did not try to intercept the package. They were concerned that the tip may be wrong, misinformation planted by Russian security services to make their counterparts look like fools, the channel’s ‘168 Hours’ program said on Sunday.

The newspaper Seznam also identified Konchakov as the suspected ricin courier, an allegation that the man calmly dismissed when confronted by journalists in front of the embassy building. “It must be a mistake, I carried disinfectant and candies in my suitcase,” the diplomat told the newspaper. He apologized for declining to give an in-depth interview, saying he would have to clear one with his superiors and suggesting that they send questions via email.

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The spy story was first broken by the magazine Respekt two weeks ago, when it reported that Prague police were giving protection to the city’s Mayor Zdenek Hrib, plus two heads of municipalities, over an alleged Russian assassination plot. Moscow was accused of wanting the men dead over the roles they played in the demolition of a statue celebrating a Soviet military commander who led the forces that liberated Prague during World War II.

Moscow rebuked the Czech government for distancing itself from the removal of the statue of Marshal Ivan Konev, which Russia believes to be insulting to the sacrifices made by Soviet troops. The demolition happened in early April but was ordered in September last year.

According to Seznam, police were not warned about the threat until April 6, more than three weeks after Konchakov’s arrival. The report suggests Czech agents were hoping to catch him red-handed while handing over ricin to a would-be hitman.

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