Russia link suspected in Eiffel Tower coffin mystery

Russia link suspected in Eiffel Tower coffin mystery

9 minutes agoHugh Schofield,BBC NewsGettyThere is always heavy security near the Eiffel Tower, Paris’s most visited site

French intelligence officials believe Russia is behind a stunt in which five coffins draped in a French flag and bearing the inscription “French soldiers of Ukraine” were deposited near the Eiffel Tower.

Three men were seen arriving in a van at about 09:00 (07:00 GMT) on Saturday. They coffins that they left were later found to contain sacks of plaster.

Police rapidly apprehended the driver, who claimed he had been paid €40 (£34) by the two others to transport the coffins. He himself had arrived in Paris only the day before from Bulgaria.

Later, police caught the two others at Bercy coach station in central Paris, where they were allegedly planning to board a bus to Berlin.

They told police they had been paid €400 to deposit the coffins, according to French media.

Police said the driver was Bulgarian and the two others were Ukrainian and German.

They were taken before a judge on Sunday, ahead of the expected opening of a judicial investigation for “violence with premeditation”, the prosecutor’s office said.

Officials said that investigations were under way “to see if this was organised from abroad”.

The circumstances recall two recent episodes in which French police believe Russian agents may have been involved. Both appear to have been attempts to manipulate public opinion.

In October – not long after Hamas carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking hundreds of hostages – Stars of David reminiscent of the Israeli flag were stencilled on several walls in Paris.

A Moldovan couple was arrested, who French officials believe were paid by Russian intelligence.

Last month, red hands were painted on a Holocaust memorial in Paris, and police believe the perpetrators fled abroad.

According to Le Monde newspaper, quoting a source in the investigation, one of the individuals held on Saturday had been in telephone contact with a Bulgarian suspect wanted for the red-hands affair. Le Monde named this suspect as 34 year-old Georgi F.

Moscow reacted angrily last month to President Emmanuel Macron’s repeated refusal to rule out sending soldiers to Ukraine.

Last week, Ukrainian officials confirmed that discussions had been held over the despatch of French military instructors.

This could provide the context for the coffins affair, investigators think, with Russian intelligence seeking to show that there is big opposition to deeper French involvement in the Ukraine war.

In both the Stars of David and red-hands affairs, the teams included a photographer whose pictures subsequently appeared on Internet sites linked to Russian propaganda.

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