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Radio review: Persona: The French Deception, Forgiveness: Stories from the Front Line, and The Documentary: From Ukraine to Israel

08 July 2022


Persona: The French Deception (wondery.com) told the story of how Gilbert Chikli impersonated the French politician Jean-Yves Le Drian (pictured)

Persona: The French Deception (wondery.com) told the story of how Gilbert Chikli impersonated the French politician Jean-Yves Le Drian (pictured)

IT IS called Mission Impossible for a reason. Although Tom Cruise will regularly assume a wholly convincing mask to fool some dastardly villain, it is, in fact, rather difficult to create such an item — as listeners to the latest true-crime podcast sensation Persona: The French Deception (episodes released every Monday by wondery.com) will have gathered. Over six episodes, this tells the story of Gilbert Chikli, who managed over a decade to relieve some very rich institutions and people of millions. While he was not exactly Robin Hood, one cannot but admire Chikli’s audacity, impersonating the French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, over Skype with the help of a silicon mask.

Last week, we reached episode five, which includes the story of the attempted scamming of a renowned French wine-maker. Chikli’s favoured modus operandi begins with an approach to the target with an appeal for money. A French national has been kidnapped, but the government does not officially respond to blackmail; can he spare a few hundred thousand euros? Like all scams, it seems in the cold light of day completely preposterous, but our viticulturist is initially taken in. Until, that is, he spots something odd about Le Drian’s face. I won’t spoil it. The whole thing is worth the investment of a few idle hours; and you will by the end wonder afresh at humanity’s ever creative wickedness.

In Forgiveness: Stories from the Front Line (R4, weekdays), we encountered instances where the consequences of sin were considerably more damaging than mere financial loss. The presenter, Marina Catacuzino, has for many years run the Forgiveness Project, which provides a platform for victims of sometimes appalling atrocities to share their stories. Of the five presented here, Thursday’s episode was especially powerful.

In April 1990, Fr Michael Lapsley SSM — an Anglican religious and resolute anti-apartheid campaigner — lost both his hands and an eye as the result of a letter bomb. To his credit, Fr Lapsley does not linger over the details. He is now in a state of “healthy inter-dependence with others”. But what he has to say about the painful but liberating process of forgiveness has universal resonance. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack; so he has nobody to forgive. And yet he does forgive, “as an act of selfishness. . . I do it in order that I may be free.” He talks of the extra burden on Christians who may feel the duty to forgive without receiving sufficient recognition of their pain. In such cases, people need “a hug rather than a sermon”.

The conflict in Ukraine has produced some excellent journalism, not least from the World Service, taking a look at the fallout from a variety of angles. In The Documentary: From Ukraine to Israel (World Service, Tuesday), Tim Samuels set into a historical context, which stretched back to the 1950s, the stories of recent Ukrainian refugees to Israel, there to settle alongside the more than one million Jews from the former Soviet Union. As with the previous migration, the long-term effect on Israeli politics will be profound.

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