The con artist and the WWI war chest: How the French secret service wound up in a blackmail scandal

© Ludovic Marin, AFP

It has all the elements of the perfect spy novel – a secret war chest, an immoral businessman and daring blackmail attempts. An explosive investigative report on Wednesday blew the lid off of what may be one of the French foreign intelligence service’s best-kept secrets: how it allegedly got swindled by a smooth-talking con artist and sent agents to threaten and extort him.

The details of the extraordinary saga began emerging late Tuesday evening, when news broke that Bernard Bajolet, the former head of the French foreign intelligence agency (DGSE), had been indicted back in October for his complicity in an extortion attempt.

Bajolet, who led the DGSE between 2013 and 2017, was also accused of “arbitrary infringement of personal liberty by a person holding public authority over the same case”, a source told the AFP news agency which, along with daily newspaper Le Monde, was among the first to report on the news.

‘Might find you in a wheelchair’

On Wednesday, Le Monde published a long investigative piece on the background to Bajolet’s indictment, and the riveting details it contained did not disappoint.

The charges reportedly relate to a March 12, 2016 incident in which French border police prevented a Franco-Swiss businessman, Alain Duménil, from boarding a flight to Geneva under the pretext that he had been subject to identity theft.

Bajolet has admitted authorising the interview, but said its only purpose was to get hold of Duménil’s lawyers, not to intimidate or blackmail him.


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