Franco-Romanian precedent for Babchenko faux death

It was back in 1982 that the secret services of then communist-run Romania planned to assassinate Virgil Tanase, a France-based dissident writer.

Published: 31st May 2018 11:47 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st May 2018 11:51 AM   |  A+A-

Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, listens for a question during a news conference with Vasily Gritsak, head of the Ukrainian Security Service and Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko at the Ukrainian Security Service on Wednesday, May 30, 2018.


PARIS: The staged "murder" of anti-Kremlin journalist Arkady Babchenko has stunned observers and enraged Russia after Ukraine accused Moscow of plotting his assassination in a stunt which actually has a precedent.

It was back in 1982 that the secret services of then communist-run Romania planned to assassinate Virgil Tanase, a France-based dissident writer.

Tanase had written an article in French news magazine Actuel that was highly critical of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's regime, prompting Bucharest to dispatch a France-based agent to kill the author, who was by then a French citizen. 

But the agent, Matei Haiducu, blew the whistle on the assassination plan, revealing the Romanian plot to the French along with a plan to murder fellow dissident Paul Goma.

It was then that French authorities staged Tanase's abduction.

"Virgil Tanase was a Romanian refugee in France that the Romanian (intelligence) services, the famous Securitate, wanted to eliminate and the DST (French surveillance) hid away for a time while making out he was dead," Eric Denece, director of France's CF2R intelligence service, told AFP.

In a book on the case -- "Des affaires très spéciales" (Very special affairs) -- authors Jacques-Marie Bourget and Yvan Stefanovitch wrote: "On May 20, 1982, Virgil Tanase was abducted outside his home in Paris.

In this April 24, 1997 file photo, author Ken Kesey poses with his bus "Further,"
in Springfield, Ore. Ken Kesey - ringmaster of
acid-tripping band of 1960s jesters
the Merry Pranksters - had published the acclaimed novel "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's
Newst" when he was arrested in 1965 for marijuana possession. He left
his truck parked on a cliffside road in California with an apparent suicide note reading "Ocean, Ocean, I’ll beat you in the end" and was smuggled into Mexico in
the trunk of a friend's car. He returned to the United States several months later,
was arrested and served five months in prison. | AP

"His wife, concerned at having no news, phoned the DST. The following day, accompanied by two policemen from the service she reported her husband's disappearance to her local police station.

"She was all the more perfect in the role of worried spouse in that she did not know what had happened to her husband and that a great farce was being played out."

It was another parallel to the Ukraine case, as Babchenko's wife had no inkling that the death of her husband had been faked -- something for which he apologised when he re-emerged.

Tanase was taken to a safe house in Brittany for three months while the Romanian Securitate were accused of his killing.

A Paris newspaper then got wind of the truth and Tanase promptly emerged on the Actuel magazine's premises to give a press conference.

In this Sunday, Dec. 28, 1987 file photo, New Jersey state senator, David
Friedland,is ushered to a car while in the custody of federal marshals at Kennedy
International Airport in New York. In a twist straight out of a spy thriller,
Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko showed up at a press conference in Kiev
on Wednesday, May 30, 2018 - a day after he was reportedly shot dead in the Ukrainian capital. New Jersey state senator Friedland was a rising star in
political circles until he was caught taking $300,000 in kickbacks in 1980. In
1985, when he learned an indictment was imminent, he
traveled to the Bahamas
and faked his death in a scuba-diving accident. | AP

"In the eyes of French counter-intelligence the affair appeared a success," wrote Bourget and Stefanovitch.

The case, worthy of a spy drama, saw then French president Francois Mitterrand, fearing the "tragic hypothesis" of a state-sanctioned murder, cancel a scheduled trip to Bucharest.

Tanase, today aged 72, returned to his career as writer and dramatist.

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