Czech media outlets claim they have identified the man behind a major assassination plot of high-ranking Czech officials as a Russian diplomat named Andrei Konchakov.
Andrei Konchakov is the director of the Russian Center for Science and Culture in Prague and was recently named by Czech media as working as an undercover Russian spy, according to BBC News. According to his biography on the center's website, Konchakov was born in Moscow in 1986 and has been in his current position since 2017.
Andrei Konchakov allegedly entered the country on a diplomatic passport
The media alleged that Konchakov entered the country on a diplomatic passport nearly two months ago with a suitcase containing the highly potent toxin, ricin, as part of an alleged plot to poison as many as three Prague officials who had taken actions that angered the Kremlin.
Konchakov, Russian embassy deny allegations
Konchakov has denied the allegations telling a Czech website that he was carrying "disinfectant and sweets" in his suitcase, and not poison, as had been alleged in the media. "It must be some mistake," he told the news site, declining to answer further questions, saying he would need clearance from Moscow first.
Without naming Konchakov, the Russian embassy also said on its Facebook page that a member of its staff was being targeted by an "anti-Russian information campaign" and was forced to apply for police protection for him as he was victim to a "slander campaign" whipped up by Czech media.
Who were the targets?
Among Konchakov's targets were Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib and Ondrej Kolar, a politician, according to the report, which cited anonymous sources in Czech intelligence. The third is another district mayor, Pavel Novotny, who has backed a memorial to the anti-Soviet "Russian Liberation Army"
Hrib and Kolar have both been vocal about their criticism of Russia. Hrib backed the renaming of the square in front of the Russian Embassy after Boris Nemtsov - the Kremlin critic who was assassinated in 2015, which many believe was ordered by Putin. Kolar also played a role in the removal of a statue commemorating Soviet-era Gen. Ivan Konev, which led to outrage in Russia.
Czech journalists are now tweeting photos of Konchakov from his Facebook account. One of the most recent shows him surrounded by members of Russia's Night Wolves motorcycle gang, in front of the statue of World War Two Russian general Ivan Konev in Prague.
Russia involvement in poisoning of critics
This isn't the first time Russia has grabbed headlines for "silencing" critics with poison. In 2009, a Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky was poisoned in prison, and some believe it's because he had uncovered a massive government-linked fraud scheme that threatened top officials.
In 2015, Moscow was accused of poisoning former Russian military officer and double agent for the UK's intelligence services Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England with a Novichok nerve agent. After the attack, Putin even went on record to call Skripal a "traitor."