Detectives investigating the near-fatal shooting of a Russian banker in London will ask Moscow for DNA samples from a suspected gangland hitman identified as the prime suspect for the attack.
German Gorbuntsov lapsed into a coma and spent months in hospital after he was shot six times by a lone gunman in March last year. The 46-year-old claimed the assassination attempt, as he arrived at his rented flat in London’s Docklands, was ordered by his former business partners.
Police recovered a full DNA sample from the crime scene. A gun, a hooded top and a bag were found dumped near the apartment in Byng Street, on the Isle of Dogs. There was no forensic match on British databases so the information was circulated across Europe to try to identify the suspect.
Last month, Russian police said they believed they had arrested the man behind the mafia-style hit after an international arrest warrant was requested by Romanian police over a separate shooting in Bucharest. The suspected Moldovan gun-for-hire, Vitalie Proca, had fled to Moscow and the Romanians are now seeking his extradition.
The Metropolitan Police also want to speak to Mr Proca. His extradition to Romania would improve the chances of him being questioned about the Gorbuntsov shooting. Scotland Yard detectives are keeping an open mind about who ordered the hit.
The Met has a good track record of working with the Romanian police force, which sent officers to London for three months last year to help identify criminal groups during the Olympics.
It is thought that any prospect of Mr Proca being brought to Britain would depend on what happens in any criminal case in Romania if his extradition to Bucharest is secured. The request to Moscow comes at a sensitive time, amid speculation about the recent death of the oligarch Boris Berezovsky and the upcoming inquest into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian secret service officer poisoned in London in 2006. Detective Chief Inspector Russell Taylor, who is leading the Gorbuntsov investigation, said: “I’m hopeful that they [the Russians] will accede to our request but it’s very early days. I don’t know what their views are going to be.”
The suspect’s mother-in-law has gone on Romanian television to protest his innocence. She also claimed that he had never been to Britain. The naming of Mr Proca raises the prospect that London has become a battleground, with European crime gangs used to recruit guns-for-hire to sort out disputes that originate in Russia. It is understood that Scotland Yard has assessed the threat posed to Russian nationals living in London.
Romanian media reports suggest that Mr Proca served 12 years in prison for murdering two people during a Christmas Day burglary in Moldova but was freed in 2010. After his release, he obtained a passport and frequently travelled in and out of his home country.
He is said to have returned there just three days after the attempt on Mr Gorbuntsov’s life in London.
Moldovan media said he was accused of attempting to kill a gangland rival of two brothers for €20,000 (£16,900). However, a man with a similar car to the supposed target was shot and seriously wounded.
Mr Gorbuntsov, who is now out of hospital and living at a secret address, has previously asked the Russians to hand over documents to Britain that might help lead to his attackers. “I ask the authorities to be honest and to investigate what happened in a fair way,” he told The Independent last year. “I want them to question me quickly, and hand over documents to Britain quickly.”
The banker believes he was attacked because he was preparing to give evidence to Russian prosecutors about a botched assassination attempt on his ex-business partner Alexander Antonov. Mr Antonov, the father of Vladimir Antonov, a former owner of Portsmouth Football Club, was shot in Moscow in 2009 but survived.
Mr Gorbuntsov’s lawyer has said Mr Proca resembles the man captured on CCTV cameras and suspected of involvement in the shooting.