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Franco-Romanian precedent for journalist Babtchenko staged fake murder

media Virgil Tanase, the Romanian-born, naturalized French dissident writer, holding a pancart which reads: "I'm doing a hunger strike against torture in Romania" on 23 July 1982 in Paris. Joel Robine/AFP

The staged 'murder' of journalist Arkady Babchenko has stunned observers and enraged Russia, who Ukraine accused of plotting to kill him 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.

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.

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 the AFP news agency.

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

"On 20 May, 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 ot 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.

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 François 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.

(with AFP)

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