Rainbow Warrior -
30 years on

The series of blunders which tripped up the spies

Phil Taylor
additional reporting Catherine Field

Behind every daring spy is a miserly bean-counter demanding a receipt. That may be the single most significant factor in the French government being exposed as the perpetrator of one of the most outrageous acts of terrorism on a friendly country.

Waiting for a modest refund led to the capture of two of the dozen or more saboteurs who came to New Zealand and in turn the unmasking of the French government operation to sink the Rainbow Warrior.

Fernando and Marelle
Fernando and daughter Marelle
(source: Greenpeace)

Just before midnight on July 10, 1985, two bombs ripped gaping holes in the Greenpeace flagship that was to lead a flotilla to Moruroa atoll to protest against French nuclear testing. The Rainbow Warrior sank in four minutes. Portuguese-born crew member, Fernando Pereira, drowned after going to his cabin to retrieve his camera gear.

By morning it was known that the source of the explosions came from outside of the hull, enabling investigation head, Detective Superintendent Allan Galbraith to comment, “it is possibly murder and possibly terrorism.”

In the following days, leads flooded in. Four Frenchmen, claiming to be on a winter yachting holiday in Northland, made themselves conspicuous almost everywhere they went. An abandoned French-made inflatable was located shortly before the explosions and an outboard motor soon after. The driver of the inflatable was reported getting into a campervan on Tamaki Drive a few hours before the bombs went off. Alert citizens noted the number plate.

Terrorism Strikes headline
NZ Herald, 11 July 1985

Detectives caught up with Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur on the morning of July 12 as they waited at rental firm Newman’s for a refund of about $130 for the early return of the camper van used to support the bombers.

Newman’s staff delayed them long enough for detectives to arrive. “That was 100 per cent crucial,” says Maurice Whitham, who was second-in-command of the police investigation. “Newman’s did a really good job. They could have walked out. They could have just left the campervan on the side of the road, got on the flight and they would have been gone.”

Mafart and Prieur, posing as Swiss honeymooners Alain and Sophie Turenge, had their tickets to freedom, having changed their flight to 11am that day – 36 hours after the explosions. They could have used the Swiss passports they flew in on as police had yet to discover they were fake, that Mafart was using the identity of a dead man.

Police Statement of Facts
Read the Police Summary of Facts

According to the police statement of facts tabled in court, they were in Hamilton the day before from where they telephoned their DGSE contact in Paris in a panic. Police traced the number to the French defence ministry.

The accountants at the DGSE – the French Secret Service – may have been right never to trust their spies. Another team of agents used a yacht, the Ouvéa, to bring in the explosives, the Zodiac inflatable dinghy and specialist combat diving gear that did not leave tell-tale bubble trails. When New Zealand police caught up with the crew in Norfolk Island five days after the bombing, a search of the boat turned up a receipt from the Dome Valley tearooms, north of Auckland. It had been doctored – the amount changed from $8.50 to $58.50.

What resonated for Kiwis about the bombing, aside from the breathtaking gall of a supposedly friendly nation, was how it exposed the hubris of the French who thought the mission would be a doddle in a backwater such as New Zealand. The mission to disable the ship was achieved but a catalogue of errors ensured lasting embarrassment for the French.

In the New Zealand of 30 years ago, foreign accents were novel and the unusual was noted.

It is an insular country, distant, withdrawn, which does not think for a second that it will get caught up in the turbulence of the world

From the nosey, blunt, scout, Christine Cabon who posed as scientist Frederique Bonlieu to infiltrate Greenpeace’s Auckland office, to the yacht Ouvea almost running aground with its clandestine cargo upon landfall on the perilous sandbar of the Far North’s Parengarenga Harbour, to the crew’s sexual escapades (including bedding a policeman’s wife), to their suspicious behaviour at an attempted rendezvous with Mafart and Prieur in a Northland forest that prompted a logging contractor to note down their car registration, to mis-judging the tides, to Mafart and Prieur waiting for a refund, the DGSE’s plan unravelled speedily and profoundly.

Mafart blamed politicians. The mission, he wrote in his book, The Secret Diaries of a Combat Diver, was ill-conceived, executed in haste and based on a dismal ignorance of New Zealand, “a little Switzerland of the Pacific”.

“It is an insular country, distant, withdrawn, which does not think for a second that it will get caught up in the turbulence of the world,” Mafart wrote. “We did not know that in this country you cannot make a move without being observed, that informing the police is a national duty.”

The yacht Ouvea
The Ouvéa

Mafart claimed Defence Minister Charles Hernu rejected a more discreet, low-key operation based on many months of reconnaissance in favour of a quick and grand action. Operation Satanique was launched in April and the attack scheduled for mid-July.

The DGSE preferred to blame amateurish behaviour of some of the saboteurs. They “trailed clues behind them like Hansel [in the fairytale Hansel and Gretel]”, lamented Alain Chouet, a senior DGSE official at the time.

The chain of events that led detectives to Mafart and Prieur may have begun with a decision to plant the bombs earlier than planned.

A Frenchman by the name of Francois Regis Verlet, claiming to be a Greenpeace supporter went on board the ship on the evening of the bombing. Though Verlet’s clean-cut appearance and ignorance of French peace groups struck some of the crew as odd, he learned that a skipper’s meeting was imminent and would be followed by a birthday party for one of the crew

According to a plausible narrative, the agents changed plan to place the bombs hours later and instead attached them to the hull about 8.30pm to take advantage of the skipper’s meeting which meant crew would be pre-occupied. They supposedly set them to go off during the party. The French have claimed this was to guard against loss of life because the party was on the relative safety of the upper deck. However, many in the peace movement see this as propaganda and point to factors such as that no warning was given, the blasts were at night and the bombs were of a size to rapidly sink the ship as indications the intention was to kill in order to strike fear into the hearts of all crews of vessels planning to go to Moruroa.

Said Greenpeace New Zealand’s recently retired executive director Bunny McDiarmid, who was on the ship earlier on the day of the explosions, said: “No one will believe that a bomb placed on the side of our ship, in the middle of a cold winter night, whilst most people were sleeping on board was a warning. The bomb blew a hole the size of a truck at our waterline and sunk the Warrior in four minutes. A bomb is not a warning.

“The French agents were certainly incompetent but the suggestion that the first bomb was supposed to be a warning is cowardly and insulting and doesn't change the fact that they remain guilty of murder.”

After the bombs were placed, the Zodiac made its way to a ramp by Teal Park on Tamaki Drive to find the tide too low to get the dinghy and motor out of the water, a consequence of the changed plan. By now the frogmen who placed the bombs had disappeared into the night and the inflatable, helmed by one man, headed towards Okahu Bay looking for an easier landing place along the waterfront, with the Turenges trying to track it in their campervan.

According to French media reports, the driver was Gérard Royal, brother of Segolene, the current number three in the French government and the Socialist Party candidate in the 2007 presidential election.

Constable Drain holding outboard motor
Constable Stephen Drain with the
outboard motor

The dinghy and its driver were seen by two fishermen and a cyclist on his way under Ngapipi Road bridge and into Hobson Bay. One reported hearing a splash under the bridge from where an outboard motor was later recovered. Next, men on neighbourhood watch duties at the Auckland Boating Club in Hobson Bay saw a dinghy being pulled from the water. They watched as bags from the dinghy were loaded by two men into a campervan.

Convinced they were watching the aftermath of a burglary, the boating club members noted the camper’s registration number, LB8945, and phoned the police.

The campervan was long gone by the time police arrived. It was noted that the serial number was missing from the French-made Zodiac.

Next morning at the first Auckland CIB briefing about the bombing, Verlet’s name was mentioned as a possible suspect. He’d left on a flight to Tahiti shortly before the explosions. Sometime during the day the report about the strange rendezvous of the dinghy and the campervan was followed up, even though the sighting was nearly three hours before the bombs went off.

Rebecca Hayter and her flatmates returned from the movies 23 hours after the explosions to find the message light flashing on the new answerphone bought by a flatmate for his freelance photography business. It was from a colleague from Newmans rentals asking her to ring urgently, the police were at the office asking about the Turenges. Hayter, now editor of Boating New Zealand, had been working for the company for just a few months while she took a break after university and contemplated a career in journalism. The couple were neat and tidy, she told police. He was friendly, she wasn’t.

Hayter had met them on July 8, two days before the bombing, when they came in having broken the windscreen. “The only thing that was a tiny bit odd was his insistence on staying with the van,” Hayter told the Herald. When she offered to help transfer their gear into the replacement campervan, Mafart was polite but firm. “No thanks”.

Hayter didn’t make the connection to the sinking of the protest ship downtown but arrived at work in Mt Wellington next morning curious about the foreign couple. “I nearly blew it,” she recalls. “I walked in and said [to another staff member] do you remember those people, the Turenges?' She said, ‘That's them there'.”

Newmans Campervan
The Newmans rental campervan

Mafart and Prieur had come in to drop off the campervan, having moved their flight forward to later that morning. They had been scheduled to leave in in Wellington a week later.

What happened next handed detectives their first big break. Hayter and other staff called the police and concocted a ruse of a refund to delay the pair. They would have to wait for a manager to arrive to sign the cheque, the Turenges were told.

Detectives had found their car blocked in the Auckland Central station carpark and lost time before commandeering the boss’s car. For Hayter, it seemed to take an age for them to arrive.

Meanwhile, management types (suits and briefcases) arrived and disappeared into offices. The Turenges became edgy. Hayter looked up from a back office to see Mafart staring intensely “and not in a friendly way” through a glass strip in the door. “At some level he knew,” she said. “We pretended to be adding up dates and times, but I bet in the months to come he thought, ‘boy, I should have listened to my instincts’.”

A plainclothes detective arrived, approached the counter and quietly asked the receptionist, who had just arrived at work and was ignorant of what was playing out, where the pair were. Hayter quickly approached and whispered, “right behind you”.

Mafart remained calm and polite when approached by the police officers and after some discussion he and Prieur agreed to go to the station with police. Had they known that the law at the time did not allow police to hold suspects on suspicion of terrorism, they could have insisted on catching their flight which was departing in a few hours.

The pair were held from 9am until midnight. In breaks from questioning, a French-speaking policeman sat with them in a room reading a newspaper. Mafart would reassure Prieur that they would get through this. “Remember the mountain,” he would say. The next day, police followed as they booked new flights at a Queen St travel agency.

Alain Turenge
Sophie Turenge
The false Swiss passports in the names of
Alain and Sophie Turenge

By July 15 police had confirmed their Swiss documents were fake. The pair were arrested for making false immigration declarations. That served as a charge to hold them on. By the end of the month they had been charged with murder, conspiring to commit arson and wilfully damaging the Rainbow Warrior.

When police searched the Ouvea after it arrived at Norfolk Island on July 13, they discovered what would become evidence of the crew's involvement in the plot. As well as traces of explosives, Mafart’s fingerprint was found on a Newman’s map. That gave the lie to Mafart’s claim that they had never met the Ouvea crew.

Among other documents was a Greenpeace brochure with a Grey Lynn address scribbled on it. The address led to a Greenpeace member and in turn to the discovery of the scouting role played by Christine Cabon.

Local law gave the detectives just 24 hours before they had to let the three crew leave (a fourth, Dr Xavier Maniguet, had left for Sydney before the detectives arrived), far too little time for the evidence to be processed. The Ouvea was allowed to sail for its stated destination of Noumea. It never arrived. The yacht is believed to have been scuttled and the crew picked up by a French Navy vessel.

But France’s secret mission was sunk too, the links that emerged between the agents and to Paris meant France could no longer deny involvement. Heads began to role up the ranks. Two months after the bombing, Defence Minister Charles Hernu fell on his sword. A week later it was the turn of his spy chief, Admiral Pierre Lacoste.

In November, Mafart and Prieur pleaded guilty to reduced charges of manslaughter and wilful damage and were sentenced to 10 year jail terms by chief justice Sir Ronald Davison. “People who come to this country and commit terrorist activities cannot expect to have a short holiday at the expense of our Government and return home heroes,” the judge said.

Butter, lamb and politics trumped justice, and they returned as heroes to France inside three years. Most of their time served was spent in comfort on Hao atoll, in French Polynesia, to where Prieur’s husband, Joel Prieur, was appointed head of security. She became pregnant. The new French defence minister welcomed Prieur as she stepped off the plane in France, while Mafart received promotions and was decorated by Paris.

Eleven years after the bombing, France ended its nuclear tests in Polynesia following further protests by Greenpeace and Pacific interests.

Video: Our journalists on the ground

Tim Murphy, Estelle Sarney, John Sefton, Geoff Cumming

The Political Fallout

Trade trumps justice

Phil Taylor

David Lange went from the best moment of his political career to one of the worst in the space of a few months.

David Lange
David Lange

French government agents bombed the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland in July 1985, a year in which Lange and his government were developing what became a long-running campaign against nuclear weapons.

The bombing hardened his stance but, his widow Margaret Pope, told the Herald he and cabinet had no choice but to accept a deal to hand the two spies caught by the police over to the French.

The former prime minister was aghast that French state saboteurs would attack Greenpeace in such a manner, Pope said.

“He just couldn’t believe, first, that they had done it, second, that many of them seemed very proud of having done it and, thirdly and perhaps critically, none of the other powers of the western alliance seemed willing to say anything about it. That made him very angry.”

Magaret Pope and David Lange
Margaret Pope with David Lange

In those days New Zealand had a lot of dairy trade into the European Economic Community, supported by British influence. “When the French threatened to put a stop to that trade and the British seemed unwilling to do anything about it, it was either sell the farmers down the river or give in,” Pope said.

France began to impose sanctions on New Zealand trade after Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur were sentenced to 10 years in jail for the manslaughter of Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira who drowned when the boat sunk. Lange was convinced lamb and butter trade was at grave risk. Soundings of other EEC members had indicated New Zealand was on its own.

“I had to accept that it was the intention of France to deal a body blow to our farming industry,” Lange wrote in his 1990 memoir, Nuclear Free – The New Zealand Way. “We were a victim of extortion and there was nothing I could do about it.”

Cabinet reluctantly agreed to a deal sealed a year after the bombing whereby the French spies serve at least three more years on Hao, a French atoll in the Pacific, and the French pay $US6.5 million in compensation to New Zealand. The agents, however, were both returned to France early, ostensibly for medical reasons.

“It was known there was going to be egg on the face,” said Pope, of cabinet’s decision to agree to a deal, “the question was the distribution of the egg. He [Lange] took it all, I think.”

Gallic Shrug
"Gallic Shrug"

The egg on the face in France related not so much to the sabotage but that it was botched. Following denials of knowledge by the French government, Defence Minister Charles Hernu was forced to resign two months after the bombing, followed six days later by DGSE spy agency chief, Admiral Pierre Lacoste.

In 2005, Le Monde published extracts of a 1986 report by Lacoste, which the newspaper said affirmed that the French spies who planted the bombs acted on orders of President Francois Mitterrand (Mitterand had died nine years earlier).

“If Oxford was the kind of highlight, then this was among the lowlights,” Pope said of her husband’s political career. “It wasn’t easy but I think, in the end, he and the Government didn’t have a choice. They just had to go along with it.”

She said it didn’t magnify her husband’s chagrin that the deal came so soon after the high of the Oxford Union debate where Lange crossed words with pro-nuclear debaters, telling one “I can smell the uranium on your breath”.

Rather, said Pope, “I think it settled him in his view of what nuclear politics did to people, especially countries like France. It made them utterly unprincipled.”

In his book, Lange hints at subsequent French dirty deeds against Kiwis. The homes of a London-based doctor and of Sir Kenneth Keith in Wellington were broken into. The doctor had been sent to Paris to examine the health of the two spies and found nothing much wrong, while Sir Kenneth was on the tribunal charged with recommending a penalty for the French returning Mafart and Prieur to France early.

Papers at the doctor’s home were scattered, a radio was left playing on a French channel and a switchblade knife was left on a desk. All that was taken from Sir Kenneth’s home was the word-processor used to draft his contribution to the tribunal’s decision. A carving knife was left in its place.

The Saboteurs

Who’s who of the agents who came to New Zealand to sink the Rainbow Warrior

Catherine Field

Operation Satanique

Objective: Sink the Rainbow Warrior
Agency: French secret service, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE)

The boss

Général Roger Emin
Général Roger Emin

Général Roger Emin: Head of DGSE operations division. Went to New Zealand on orders of DGSE chief Admiral Pierre Lacoste to see if the operation was possible, but was back in Paris when it was carried out.

The scout

Christine Cabon
Christine Cabon

Christine Cabon (also known as Frederique Bonlieu)

DGSE intelligence agent who infiltrated Greenpeace’s Auckland office in April 1985, posing as scientist Frederique Bonlieu. Cabon, aged 33, gathered directions, maps, and information for the operation, before leaving on May 24.

At the time of the bombing she was in Israel. On the day Auckland police asked Israeli authorities to arrest her, she was tipped off and left Israel. Cabon had reportedly previously spent years infiltrating PLO cells in Lebanon.

She now lives in retirement with her partner in the French countryside.

Team One: Crew of the yacht Ouvea

The Ouvea was used to smuggle explosives, an inflatable Zodiac dinghy, an outboard motor and specialist diving gear into New Zealand. It sailed for Norfolk Island about the time of the explosions. New Zealand police searched the boat at its mooring there but had insufficient evidence to detain the crew. The yacht was last seen sailing for Noumea. It is thought the yacht was scuttled and the crew picked up by a French navy vessel.

Chief Petty Officer Roland Verge (Raymond Velche)

Roland Verge
Roland Verge

Skipper of the Ouvea. A combat diver trained by the DGSE in Corsica, he had an affair with the wife of a Whangarei policeman while on the mission. Later worked for private security firms. Now retired.

Petty Officer Gerald Andries (Eric Audrenc)

Gerald Andries
Gerald Andries

DGSE combat diver. Bought the French-made Zodiac inflatable and the outboard motor used in the bombing from London firm Barnet Marine.

Andries was arrested on 23 November, 1991, in Switzerland crossing the border, following a request from New Zealand. Although there was a prima facie case for manslaughter, National Prime Minister Jim Bolger did not pursue extradition for fear of trade reprisals.

Andries is now retired.

Petty Officer Jean-Michel Bartelo (Jean-Michel Berthelot)

Jean-Michel Bartelo
Jean-Michel Bartelo

DGSE combat diver. Retired from French Navy in 2013 after serving 28 years. He lives in the south of France and does consultancy for offshore drilling companies.

Dr Xavier Maniguet

Xavier Maniguet
Xavier Maniguet

French citizen employed for Opération Satanic but not a member of the DGSE. Thought to have been included as a specialist in diving medicine and to lend legitimacy to the crew. The only one of the four-man crew not travelling on false papers, he was reputed to have energetically fulfilled his cover identity as a playboy traveller by sleeping with many Kiwi women during the operation. His book, The Jaws Of Death , included reference to his role in the bombing.

Maniguet died in 2009, aged 62, when a small aircraft he was piloting crashed. In an obituary, French newspaper Le Figaro said he took part in a secret mission to free French hostages in Somalia in September 2008 for which “he earned the congratulations of the President,” Nicolas Sarkozy.

Team two: Reconnaissance and support

DGSE agents Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur posed as Swiss honeymooners, Alain and Sophie Turenge. Their role was to support the bombers but they were arrested In Auckland returning a rental campervan.

Major Alain Mafart (Alain Turenge)

Alain Mafart
Alain Mafart

Was second-in-command of DGSE's underwater combat school in Corsica in the early 1980s. Mafart, 36, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. He was later deported in agreement with the French to spend at least three years in detention on Hao atoll in French Polynesia but was smuggled back to France in 1987 posing as a carpenter named Serge Quillan.

Made lieutenant-colonel in 1989, received France's National Order of Merit in May 1991 and retired from the service as a colonel in 1994, aged 43. His 1999 autobiography blamed nosey, do-good Kiwis for the operation’s undoing.

Mafart is now a semi-retired wildlife photographer. In 2014 Greenpeace America was embarrassed when it unwittingly used one of his photos to illustrate its calendar.

Captain Dominique Prieur (Sophie Turenge)

Dominique Prieur
Dominique Prieur

Specialist in European peace movements. After her arrest by New Zealand police, the 33-year-old received the same sentence as Mafart. Her husband, Joel, a Paris fireman, attended her trial in Auckland and visited her on Hao atoll where, she became pregnant. She was repatriated to France in April 1988 in breach of an agreement between France and New Zealand.

In her 1995 book Secret Agent, she wrote that the agents were “terrified and appalled” that a death occurred. “We hadn't come here to kill anyone ... For me, the death of a man was very hard to take.” In 1998 she received a commendation for her 25 years service to the French military. At the end of 2008 she was appointed to the human resources department at the headquarters of the Pompiers de Paris (Paris Fire Brigade), where she worked under her maiden name Dominique Marie. Her husband was brigade commander from 2007 to 2011. She is now retired.

Team three: the bombers

Kept a low profile, unlike their colleagues, and accounts of their activities still differ. DGSE agents Cammas and Kister claimed to be physical training instructors at a girls school in Papeete. After the bombing, they and their boss Dillais posed as tourists in the South Island before slipping out of New Zealand.

Lieutenant Colonel Louis Piere Dillais (Jean Louise Dormand)

Louis Piere Dillais
Louis Piere Dillais

Commander of the operation in New Zealand and former head of the French naval special warfare school. Awarded Legion of Honour in December 1986 and in 1993 was appointed head of sensitive issues (affaires réservées) at Ministry of Defense, which he left in 1995. Was working for US subsidiary of FN Herstal, a Belgian arms manufacturer.

Jean Cammas (Jacques Camurier)

Jean Cammas
Jean Cammas

Named by author Michael King as the bomber in his 1986 book Death of the Rainbow Warrior. Some recent French media accounts contradict this.

Jean Luc Kister (Alain Tonel)

Jean Luc Kister
Jean Luc Kister

Awarded Légion of Honour in 1994, retired from French army in March 2000 and served in security advisory role for UN. Retired in August 2014 but does private consultancy work.

Gerard Royal

Gerard Royal
Gerard Royal

Le Parisien quoted Royal’s brother, Antoine, as saying “ ... he was called upon in 1985 to go to New Zealand, to Auckland Harbour, to sabotage the Rainbow Warrior. Later, he told me that it was him who planted the bomb on the Greenpeace ship”. However, Maniguet and other sourcers in France claim Royal was drove the Zodiac. Royal has refused to comment.

Royal’s sister, Segolene, is currently number three in the French government and was the Socialist Party candidate in the 2007 presidential election.

Francois Verlet

Went aboard the Rainbow Warrior on the evening of the bombing, allegedly to provide the DGSE agents with information used to time the bombing. He arrived on the same day as Tonel and Camurier and changed his ticket to fly out for Tahiti shortly before the explosions. Interviewed there by a New Zealand detective, he claimed to be merely a tourist. His father was an executive of an oil company that had employed Maniguet.

Teams four and five

Their job was to extract the spies from New Zealand and receive them in New Caledonia after the mission.

Clippings File

A selection of how we reported on the bombing and the aftermath

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