A fake French kidnap plot in 1982 serves as precedent for Ukraine’s fake assassination drama

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 1:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 May, 2018, 10:01pm

The staged “murder” of anti-Kremlin journalist Arkady Babchenko, which stunned observers and enraged Russia, 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.

Following publication of a Tanase article in French news magazine Actuel, highly critical of the regime of dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, Bucharest dispatched Matei Haiducu, a French-based agent, to kill the author, by then a French citizen.

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

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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,” said Eric Denece, director of France’s CF2R intelligence service.

Jacques-Marie Bourget and Yvan Stefanovitch wrote a book – Des affaires très spéciales (very special affairs) – on the case.

“On May 20, 1982, Virgil Tanase was abducted outside his home in Paris,” the pair wrote. 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 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.

Virgil Tanase was spirited away to a safe house in Brittany for three months while the Romanian Securitate were accused over 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 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 Mitterand, 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.