By Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian prosecutors are investigating the murder of a British oil executive who was shot and killed in unexplained circumstances in front of his wife as they walked to their car after dinner at an Italian restaurant in Brussels.
Nicholas Mockford, who worked for U.S. oil giant ExxonMobil, was shot on October 14 after an evening meal, but prosecutors declined to say if they were investigating the case as a possible contract killing.
A woman who lived opposite where the couple had parked their car told Reuters she had heard three shots and then called the police. When she went out to investigate, she recognized Mockford's wife as a customer of her husband's hairdresser.
"She was clearly shocked and she said that they had demanded money, money, car, car. Those were the words she heard. One would imagine it was a car-jacking," she said.
Police initially suspected Mockford had been killed in a failed car hijacking, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters, though the couple's Lexus sports utility vehicle had not been taken after the shooting.
Marcello Minacapelli, the owner of the Italian restaurant, said the couple, who were not regulars, had left at about 10 p.m. on the Sunday evening, but he had not seen the incident.
Brussels prosecutors said they were not prepared to comment further on the details or circumstances of the case until the perpetrators were caught.
Mockford, 59, was a manager within the chemicals arm of ExxonMobil and had worked over a period of 38 years in Britain, Belgium and Singapore.
ExxonMobil Belgium confirmed he had worked as a department head at its office in Machelen, on the outskirts of Brussels.
"Of course we are all shocked," a company spokesman said. "There is no indication that the incident was work-related."
No one was willing to comment when Reuters called Mockford's family home in Grimbergen, an affluent town just north of the capital Brussels.
Britain's Foreign Office confirmed that a British national had been killed and that it was providing consular assistance.
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Rex Merrifield and Giles Elgood)