Murdered journalists were tracked by police with shadowy Russian links, evidence shows

New evidence shows that three Russian journalists killed in the Central African Republic last year were victims of a well-planned ambush involving a senior police officer with shadowy Russian connections

The three journalists -- Kirill Radchenko, Alexander Rastorguyev and Orkhan Dzhemal -- went to CAR in July 2018 to investigate the activities of Russian private military contractors. Their intention was to find out how the contractors were involved in exploiting the CAR's mineral wealth.

The trio were shot dead after the vehicle in which they were traveling was attacked on a remote road in the volatile country. Their fate has cast a spotlight on a growing Russian presence in Africa, involving the Kremlin, private companies with ties to to President Vladimir Putin and large shipments of weapons.

The official explanation of their death is that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, victims of bandits or rebels. But that story never quite added up. Nothing of value was taken from their vehicle, their driver survived unscathed, and investigations remain incomplete.

Now, six months later, there is evidence that far from being the victims of a random attack, the murder of the trio was carefully planned.

The day they were killed, their driver was in regular communication with a senior CAR police officer, according to call logs seen by CNN. That officer followed the journalists in another vehicle as they drove north from Bangui, the capital of CAR. A major in the national gendarmerie, the officer is closely connected with Russian contractors working in the country, many of whom work closely with both the Russian government and Russian companies active in CAR. CNN has approached the CAR national gendarmerie for comment; it has yet to respond.

The journalists were in CAR on a trip sponsored by the Center for Investigation -- a now-closed online news outfit funded by exiled Russian businessman and Putin critic, Mikhail Khodorkovsky. "I want the people who were involved in this tragedy to be interrogated and charged," Khodorkovsky told a news conference in London on Thursday. "We believe that the Russian authorities should do this. They have every opportunity to interrogate people in Russia and also people in the CAR."