Credit: Freepik

Police Shelve Investigation Into 2014 Explosions At Vrbetice Ammunition Depot

Investigators from the National Centre Against Organised Crime (NCOZ) have shelved the case of the explosions at an ammunition depot in Vrbetice, which killed two people in 2014, said NCOZ chief Jiri Mazanek today. He added that the attacks had been carried out by the Russian military intelligence GRU.

NCOZ officers consider it proven that GRU operatives carried out the explosions, hoping to prevent the delivery of ammunition to the areas where Russia was conducting military operations.

As the suspects are in Russia, which has refused to cooperate with the Czech police, NCOZ cannot launch criminal prosecutions, Mazanek added.

The procedure was approved by the public prosecutor, which agreed that the police decision was the only possible way of terminating the criminal proceedings in accordance with the legislation, said the spokesman for the Regional Prosecutor’s Office in Brno, Hynek Olma.

Security Information Service (BIS) civilian counterintelligence director Michal Koudelka said he considered it crucial that the information gathered by the Czech counterintelligence about the responsibility of GRU had been confirmed in the case of the Vrbetice explosions.

“NCOZ did a great job in a very complex case and proved that the Russian intelligence services were behind a heinous attack that cost the lives of two innocent Czech citizens and CZK 1 billion in property damage,” Koudelka said in a press release today.

In its decision, NCOZ stated that the Russian military intelligence was involved in causing the Vrbetice explosions and the deaths of Czech nationals, adding that this was not an isolated incident but part of a long-term pattern of subversive activity by the Russian military intelligence on the territory of the European Union and Ukraine, Mazanek said.

According to Mazanek, the Russian military intelligence had the means to cause the explosions, its people came to the Czech Republic for this purpose, and left immediately afterwards. The Czech police have established that the Russian intelligence also had detailed information about the stored commodities, their movements, and the end users. The perpetrators, according to criminal investigators, were members of a unit designed to carry out subversive operations abroad.

Olma said people using the names Nikolai Popa and Ruslan Tabarov had planned to visit the Vrbetice depots. They were later identified as GRU agents Alexander Mishkin and Anatoliy Chepiga, who are also suspected in the 2018 poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, UK.

However, Mazanek said the police lacked some information about the movements of individual GRU members in the Czech Republic. “We can only assume what tasks were performed by individual members located in the Czech Republic and neighbouring countries, or how many other members of the Russian armed forces and their collaborators were involved in the attack,” the NCOZ director said.

Criminal investigators cannot obtain further information because the Russian authorities have refused to comply with Czech requests for international legal assistance, justified on the grounds that it “could harm the sovereignty, public order and important interests of the Russian Federation,” Mazanek noted.

Depot number 16 in Vrbetice exploded on 16 October 2014, and the second one, number 12, on 3 December of the same year. Both warehouses were leased by the Ostrava-based Imex Group. Ammunition stored in the other warehouses was transported from Vrbetice to other locations.

In addition to two deaths, the explosions caused more than CZK 1 billion in damage, according to the police.

The investigators’ findings about the involvement of Russian intelligence agents in the blasts sparked a diplomatic rift with Russia in 2021. The Czech Republic and Russia expelled dozens of embassy staff from each other’s embassies.

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