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1985: Agents plead guilty in Rainbow Warrior trial

Two French secret service agents have dramatically changed their pleas on charges relating to the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour, New Zealand.

A Greenpeace photographer, Fernando Pereira, died in the attack which sunk the vessel - the flagship of environmental group Greenpace - last July.

Today in the High Court in Auckland, Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur pleaded guilty to arson and manslaughter.

At an earlier hearing the agents had pleaded not guilty to charges of arson, conspiring to commit arson and murder.

New Zealand's Solicitor General Paul Neazor, QC, told the court the Crown was prepared to accept a plea on the lesser charge of manslaughter.


"This is a process of law not some sort of haggling or selling prisoners"

David Lange, NZ Prime Minister

Mr Neazor said it could not be proved Mafart and Prieur were personally to blame for placing the explosive devices on the Rainbow Warrior, nor that they intended anyone should be killed or injured.

After their amended pleas were accepted, the case against Mafart and Prieur was concluded within 30 minutes.

They remain in custody prior to sentencing at a later date.

New Zealand's Prime Minister David Lange has denied that he made a deal with France over the agents.

"This is a process of law not some sort of haggling or selling prisoners, that's not how the justice system works.

"The political system does not run the courts of New Zealand," Mr Lange said.

The bombing occurred just before the Greenpeace team were to set sail to Muroroa Atoll - a French territory in the Pacific Ocean - to protest against French nuclear testing there.

Fernando Pereira died after attempting to retrieve photographic equipment from his cabin following an initial blast just before midnight on 10 July.

He drowned after becoming trapped when a second device exploded.

The force of the explosions from two mines attached to the side of the ship was such that an eight-foot (2.5 metre) hole was opened below the waterline, sinking the Rainbow Warrior.

In Context
After first denying the agents were in their employ, French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius finally admitted in September the French secret service had ordered the attack on the Rainbow Warrior.

It was widely believed the two captured French agents were part of a larger team and had played only minor roles in the bombing but nobody else was ever tried for the offences.

Mafart and Prieur were sentenced to ten years imprisonment for Mr Pereira's manslaughter and seven years for arson.

In 1986 they were transferred to a French jurisdiction to serve their terms but by May 1988 both had been released.

The damage to Rainbow Warrior proved too extensive to repair.

Greenpeace bought a new vessel, also named Rainbow Warrior, which continues to spearhead other environmental confrontations.


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