Belgian police are investigating the murder of a British oil executive who was shot dead in front of his wife.
Nicholas Mockford, who worked for US oil company ExxonMobil, was killed outside a restaurant in Brussels almost two weeks ago. Authorities did not disclose the crime at the time because of its serious nature.
Belgian police said on Friday they were looking for two suspects who shot Mockford four times as they tried to snatch his wife’s handbag.
Police initially believed Mockford was killed in a failed car hijacking but have declined to say if they are also investigating the case as a possible contract killing.
After news of the killing surfaced in local Belgian media, a UK foreign office spokesman in London said: “We can confirm the death of a British national in Brussels on October 14.”
Police said in a statement that after the couple left an Italian restaurant in Brussels and headed for their car, a man attacked Mockford’s wife, “assaulting her violently”.
“He punched her face and tried to snatch her handbag,” the statement said.
“A second man fired four shots [at Mockford] who died of his wounds.”
A spokesman for ExxonMobil said on Friday the company was “shocked by the very tragic death”.
In the beginning, the investigating judge imposed an order on police preventing them from releasing any detail on the case, which police said was not unusual in a serious murder case. As a result, initial news reports were sparse.
But on Thursday, authorities switched course and decided to enlist the public’s help, releasing a brief description of the crime.
Mockford and his wife, Mary, left Da Marcello restaurant about 10 pm, the report said. They crossed the street toward their car, identified by news reports as a Lexus.
When they reached the car, an assailant “threatened” Mrs Mockford, hit her several times in the face, and tried to yank her bag away, police said.
Suddenly, a second assailant fired four shots at Mockford, who died at the scene, according to police.
On October 16, the VTM television channel interviewed a neighbor who asked not to be identified.
“I heard the sound of two, well I don’t know, like tack, tack,” said the man, whose image was blurred. “I thought that was strange and went outside.”
“I saw a woman lying on the sidewalk across the street. She was shouting ‘Help! Help!’ There was also a man lying next to a car.”
The man said Mrs Mockford mentioned a white van, so neighbors originally thought her husband had been the victim of a hit-and-run accident.
“I stayed with the man, but he stopped breathing,” the neighbour said.
“I resuscitated him and he came to. Then he became unconscious again and at that moment the ambulance arrived.”
He said after ambulance workers had cut open the man’s clothing, he saw the man “had a bullet in his chest and a bullet in his shoulder. There was also blood on his head.”
Investigators have asked that the driver of the van report to police, saying it had crossed the couple’s path shortly before the attack.
The assailants, who wore motorcycle helmets, initially escaped on foot but were later seen on a motorcycle, the police report said.