Franco-Romanian precedent for Babchenko faux death

Three months after his staged murder Virgil Tanase, taken into French protective custody, emerged in Paris to quash the hypothesis of a state killing by Romanian security forces

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 tr�s sp�ciales" (Very special affairs) -- authors Jacques-Marie Bourget and Yvan Stefanovitch wrote: "On May 20, 1982, Virgil Tanase was abducted outside his home in Paris.

"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 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.

Three months after his staged murder Virgil Tanase, taken into French protective custody, emerged in Paris to quash the hypothesis of a state killing by Romanian security forces