Guilty as Charged

The Rainbow Warrior - sinking as a result of two bombs placed by the French government.

French Secret Service agents killed Greenpeace photographer Fernando Pereira in an attack that would have made Inspector Gadget look slick. Despite mounting evidence to the contrary gathered within days of the attack, France continued to deny responsibility for over two months. Here we trace the events that led to the eventual reluctant admission of guilt and the disappearance of those responsible.

Just before midnight on July 10, 1985, the crew of the Rainbow Warrior stared in disbelief at the half-submerged ship - their home and an international symbol of peace.  But it was not until police were able to view the holes left in the ship – one big enough to drive a car through – that it was clear this was an act of sabotage and not just a tragic accident.

Detective Inspector Allan Galbraith was appointed to oversee the investigation.  He immediately called for additional resources and hit the ground running to find those responsible.  In the week following the attack, his team consisted of 56 officers, at its height, that number would grow to over 100. Over the next four months more than 6,000 interviews would be carried out.

A Promising Start

The police immediately had leads.  On the day of the attack, Mike Harris - a taxi driver in Auckland – was enjoying a drink with friends at the Outboard Boating Club.  They noticed a small inflatable Zodiac pulled up on a wooden ramp leading up to the roadside.  The driver of the Zodiac climbed out and jogged down Tamaki Drive, returning moments later in a white camper van. Helped by another man, the Zodiac driver offloaded a large bundle from the boat and into the back of the van. Their suspicions aroused, Mike and his friends telephoned the police. They managed to jot down the vehicle details as it sped away - - a white Toyota Hiace, registration plate LB 8945.

The next day police received a call from the airport branch of Newman’s car rental agency.  The couple that had leased the Toyota Hiace was attempting to return the vehicle earlier than expected.  A detective was sent to question and detain the couple that leased the Toyota.  They were later identified as Captain Dominique Prieur and Major Alain Mafart, high-ranking agents of the DGSE, the French Secret Services.

That same day, the morning papers reported that the Auckland police wanted to interview a Frenchman who had visited the ship the day of the bombing. This prompted Frank McLean, a Senior Customs Officer in Whangarei, north of Auckland, to recall - and report - an incident in late June involving a French crewed sloop ship, the Ouvéa.

Au Revoir Ouvéa

The Ouvéa had been docked in Whangarei and set sail on July 9. During routine immigration checks, McLean's instincts told him something didn't quite fit. Having a distinct military bearing, three of them carried brand new, uncreased and unmarked passports. One claimed to be a photographer although no camera equipment was in evidence when McLean checked over the vessel.

Police investigations brought to light that the Ouvéa had been used to transport the explosives and other French agents to New Zealand. Three crewmembers were eventually identified as DGSE agents (Roland Verge, Gerald Andries and Jean-Michel Barcelo). The fourth was a Navy reservist and freelance doctor specializing in the treatment of diving injuries (Xavier Christian Jean Maniguet). Although they were brought in for questioning shortly after the bombing, the police had insufficient evidence at the time to hold them. They and the Ouvéa quickly disappeared. The police believe that the yacht now lies at the bottom of the deep ocean and the crew were evacuated by a French submarine.

Information also emerged detailing a meeting between Major Mafart and Captain Prieur and the DGSE agents from the Ouvéa. Forensic evidence uncovered fingerprints from Mafart and Prieur on documents found on the Ouvéa.

“Infultrating Greenpeace is like Infultrating the YMCA”

Weeks earlier, a French volunteer joined the Greenpeace New Zealand office.  After the attack, Frédérique Bonlieu sent a postcard of condolence.  It was later revealed that Frédérique was actually Christine Cabon, a captain in the French Army.  She had infiltrated our office to gather intelligence on us to help the French with their attack.

Such was the depth and breadth of the trail left by the French agents of the DGSE, it was quickly observed by the media that the only thing missing was “a beret, a bottle of Beaujolais and a baguette.”

No Kidding

On September 21, France finally admitted its responsibility for sinking the Rainbow Warrior.  The United Nations was called in to mediate a settlement between France and New Zealand. Eventually the French government was forced into an unconvincing apology and ordered to pay NZ$13 million to the New Zealand government. Later still, Greenpeace received US$8 million from France. This enabled us to build the replacement for the Rainbow Warrior, the current Rainbow Warrior II.

On November 4, the trial of Captain Prieur and Major Mafart began…and ended. The pair entered guilty pleas, thus avoiding a lengthy trial and the possibility of more revelations to rock the French establishment. They were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for manslaughter, and seven years for arson, to run concurrently.

In the months that followed, France exerted serious economic pressure on New Zealand over dairy exports and a deal was struck allowing Prieur and Mafart to serve their time in a French military prison. They served a little over two years of their sentences before being freed and returned to Paris, where they were honored with military medals and resumed their careers.

In 1985 French President Francois Mitterrand promised “justice at the highest level.”  But 20 years later, no proper public inquiry into the bombing and the murder of Fernando Pereira has been held in France. New Zealand's police have been denied the opportunity to interview most of the DGSE agents responsible.

Along with the crew of the
Ouvéa, New Zealand's police force still have warrants out for the questioning of two more agents, Alain Tonel and Jacques Camurier, who are believed to have been the back-up team. A warrant is also still out for Colonel Louis Pierre Dillais, revealed as the head of the operation in a book written by Mafart after his return to France. Colonel Dillias was later identified as having stayed in a hotel room overlooking Marsden Wharf.

Marelle Pereira, one of Fernando's two children, was just eight years old when her father was murdered.  She believes it is never too late for France to tell the truth nor is it too late for justice.

Fernando Pereira and his daughter, Marelle, then eight years old.

Photo by kind permission of Marelle Pereira.