Top secret documents concerning Britain’s multi-million pound deal to develop state-of-the-art drones have been stolen in Paris, it emerged tonight.
In what had all the hallmarks of a covert operation by spies, two men are believed to have stolen a briefcase at the Gare du Nord station in Paris.
A high-level executive working for French company Dassault Aviation was on his way to London on the Eurostar train on February 2 when the theft took place.
Security leak: Top secret documents about Britain's multi-million pound deal to develop state-of-the-art drones have been stolen in the Gare du Nord train station in Paris (pictured)
The unnamed man briefly left his case unattended when his female colleague was ‘hassled’ by a stranger, a Paris Judicial Police source said.
Documents in the case were marked ‘Defence - Confidential’ and contained details of the Franco-British drone project, a legal source close to the case told Le Parisien newspaper.
The source said that the theft happened at around 5pm, when the station was packed with cross-Channel travellers.
When the Dassault executive returned to a self-service ticket machine after helping his colleague ‘his briefcase had disappeared’.
The source said: ‘His attention had been purposefully diverted. It was not a random theft.
We have to determine whether the thieves were targeting confidential documents on the drone project or other valuables in the briefcase.’
Nicolas Sarkozy speaks with Dassault Aviation boss Charles Edelstenne as he sits in the cockpit of a French Dassault-made Rafale jet fighter in 2007. A Dassault executive was carrying the documents in a briefcase when they were stolen
The person who hassled the woman disappeared almost immediately, and has not been seen since. He is described as being in his 30s. Whoever took the briefcase was not seen at all.
While the police insisted that a highly-sophisticated operation by a spy agency could not be ruled out, Dassault said it was ‘probably a random theft’.
The company tonight confirmed that a briefcase belonging to an employee was taken, but insisted that it did not contain any ‘sensitive documents'.
The Dassault spokesman added: ‘It was basically a petty theft, like so many others at the station’, adding that the incident was captured on security cameras.
Pact: Mr Sarkozy and David Cameron last week attended a bilateral defence agreement in which they discussed the research and development project involving Dassault and BAE Systems (file picture)
Last Friday, David Cameron arrived in Paris to attend a bilateral defence agreement in which he discussed the research and development project involving Dassault and BAE Systems with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
In what was described as a ‘highly-sensitive tie-up’ by diplomatic sources, it was revealed that the companies would be working on a medium-altitude long-endurance drone for reconnaissance.
It would be available for flights from 2020, while a combat version complete with weapons would be ready by 2030, said a French defence ministry spokesman.
France and Britain's plan to develop a new generation of fighter drones is their biggest collaboration since they agreed to closer military cooperation last year.
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Like something out of fucking Mission Impossible.