Monday, October 26, 2020

124. A RULER ABSENT OF REASON

 





On Retainer to Prince Albert of Monaco

March 2007


On March 5th I met with Police Chief Andre Muhlberger in at the Columbus bar for six o’clock cocktails.  

The Mule bitched to me about how everyone in the principality—“this bubble,” he called it—was constantly watching, gossiping and conspiring—with himself now suffering criticism. 

 

Justice Minister Philippe Narmino had been saying to others about Muhlberger, “He’s not here to do investigations.”  

The Narminos and Briantis of Monaco wanted their police chief to direct traffic. 

Muhlberger told me he had met Adnan Houdrouge at Sass Café, the police chief’s favorite hangout and Houdrouge, who’d drunk one drink too many, told Muhlberger he had paid the Prince three million euros under-the-table and, hence, had the Prince in his pocket.  

Houdrouge’s message was:  

Corruption goes to the very top—leave it alone.  

So Muhlberger did not wish to be burdened with our intelligence.  


I had not called Police Captain Yves Subraud, but ran into him on the street, so we met at Au Royal Café later that day.  

He was suffering from a sciatic nerve problem—“too much stress,” he told me—so had been taking it easy.  

It was a sad meeting.  The fire had gone from Subraud’s eyes and he seemed broken.  

I asked about Raymond Gottlieb, also of SIGER.  His partner, said Subraud, was on leave doing “home improvement.”

Clearly, they had been put out of action.

And then—wouldn’t you know it—immediately upon leaving the café, Subraud beat a path straight to Muhlberger’s office, where JL was wrapping up a meeting with the police chief.  

Subraud, no doubt, had been instructed to report to Muhlberger the minute he finished with me.  

As Subraud tried to melt from sight, JL whispered to him, “Did you have a nice coffee with Robert?” 

Little wonder Subraud was broken.

The Prince and I were supposed to meet at six o’clock in the evening on March 6th.   

I awaited his presence with JL in Columbus.        

Then his secretary Madame Viale called my cell phone.  

“The Prince cannot come,” she said.  “He will call in one hour.” 

He never called.  

Later, we learned that insteadAlbert had gone go-karting on the port with Stefan Morondi, a friend of this who had been implicated in the Hobbs-Mellville financial scandal and since then banned from Monaco.

In view of such rudeness and immaturity,  I worried that the Prince would not honor his commitment to meet the CIA's LIPS and U.S. Ambassador to France Craig Stapleton three weeks hence.


When I arrived at that meeting on March 25th, at the Port Palace Hotel, LIPS hovered outside; he had been around since breakfast, taking no chances about arriving late. 

Ten minutes later Ambassador Stapleton appeared.  

Within minutes, I deduced Stapleton was no political hack even though his wife, said LIPS, was married to First Lady Laura Bush’s cousin and he’d been the President’s partner as co-owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team.  

(In fact, Stapleton’s wife, Dorothy Walker, was first cousin to George H.W. Bush, not Laura Bush’s cousin. LIPS could not even get political gossip straight.

I briefed Ambassador Stapleton on my role as Spymaster to the Prince.

  

Ambassador Stapleton

The Ambassador grasped the complexity of this relationship.  

While LIPS danced obsequiously, Stapleton asked incisive questions.  

Unlike LIPS, Ambassador Stapleton immediately comprehended the importance of our Micro-Europe Columbus Group. 


“That is a great idea!” he enthused. 

“Yes, it really is a great idea!” LIPS echoed. 

I added that JL (who was present) and I would travel to San Marino the following morning to enlist the San Marinese into Columbus.

The Prince phoned my cell at 10:45 to say he’d be with us presently and indeed arrived ten minutes later. 

Our discussion, stilted at first—the Prince had been up most of the night after the Rose Ball Gala—picked up when Ambassador Stapleton graciously praised our efforts to keep the Prince well informed.  

He offered the Prince continued support and reinforcement.

 

LIPS announced his departure from Paris in July.  

(Not soon enough, but welcome news.)

The Prince mentioned that he would fly to Moscow two days hence to attend a celebration at the Kremlin hosted by President Putin in honor of Mstislav Rostropovich, the renowned cellist. 

“Will Gocha Arivadze be there, too?” I asked. 

The Prince hesitated a moment, then lied.  “No.”

Not only would Arivadze be present, he would fly on the Prince’s plane to Moscow.


I’d begun to see a pattern of lies—lies that nobody ever attempted to call Albert on because he was the Prince.  




And the more Albert lied and got away with it, the more comfortable he became with the telling of lies.

As I saw the Prince to his car, I mentioned I had a number of urgent issues to discuss with him, including a certain Omanian named Thamer Al-Shanfari.  

Plus a Syrian national—resident in Monaco—believed to be selling arms to Islamic terrorist groups.  

Quite weighty issues, I added.  

Very shady people—the sort the Prince professed to be unwelcome in his principality.  

He promised to phone me back later to schedule a meeting. 

He never did.


At seven the next morning, JL and I zoomed out of Monaco, through France and into Italy.  

The computer navigational narrator guided us around a carnival of roads to The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, arriving at Hotel Titana at quarter-to-two. 


San Marino is the world’s oldest republic, boasting a millennium of democracy. 

Their form of democracy is this:  

Five families take turns running the country.



(Don't laugh: That's what the Kennedys, Bushes and Clintons would wish upon the USA.)

Its culture is something else.  

You can tell a lot about a country by its museums.  

In San Marino there are three: 

 

Two are torture museums—one with wax figures being tortured—and the third, a freak museum.  

And very many duty-free shops, abounding with knives, swords, BB-guns and replica pistols and rifles.



We’d left a bright sunny day down below in Italy, near Rimini.  But San Marino was enveloped in grayness and moisture.  

Within this medieval setting, we ate pasta, moistened our faces with a walk and met Nicola M of the Banca Centrale in our hotel lobby.  

We drove with him to his office at the central bank, where he introduced us to director-general Luca P.  

JL and I explained our mission and invited Luca to attend our next Columbus Group meeting in Malta.  

At first skeptical about the un-official-ness of our status, Luca warmed up quickly.  He liked the idea of small countries cooperating; had even, he said, considered starting such an association himself.  

Not only was Luca enthusiastic to attend Columbus, he had a piece of bilateral business to conduct with us.  

Nicola retrieved a file from another room.  

An Austrian was trying to buy into a San Marinese bank, and they had found a Monaco connection in his C.V.  

Had we heard of him?  

We had not.  

Could we access intelligence on him?  

Of course we could. 

That, in a nutshell, was the essence of Columbus:  

We small countries/tax havens/financial centers would work together to keep bad money out.

Within two days, we knew enough to tell Luca P that their bank-buying Austrian was crooked—and they denied his application to buy into a San Marinese bank.  

This is how our system worked, as it had never worked before. 

 

Back in Monaco next day, I was introduced to Joel Bouzou, an advisor to the Prince on sport, a position the Prince recently elevated to Cabinet level.  

Bouzou, as I understood it, was one of the few good guys around the Prince.  

JL and I briefed Bouzou on our mission and enlightened him on the dynamics at play.  Finally, he better understood why he had come up against cold shoulders from Gerard Brianti (ASM football business) and Bruno Philipponnat (Palace Cabinet business).  

Their interest was the preservation of status quo corruption and they perceived Bouzou as an interloper who might try to clean things up.  

Brianti and Philipponnat would, we cautioned, conspire to embarrass and discredit him.  I pointed out, as I had to others:  

There is nothing more cutthroat than a royal court.  

Bouzou already had concerns about Jean-Paul Carteron and Adnan Houdrouge, with whom he had been grouped to organize Peace Through Sport.  

So he was not too surprised, if appalled, by our revelations, about Houdrouge especially.  

“But I asked the Prince if I should involve Houdrouge and Carteron and he said yes.

Maybe the Prince did not remember that Houdrouge had bribed Franck and Sylvie Biancheri—and that he went around town telling people, including the new police chief, that he had the Prince “by the balls” and “in my pocket” for paying Biancheri three million euros for permission to invest in Monaco’s football team.  

Yet the Prince placed Houdrouge on Peace Through Sport to raise money.

Maybe Houdrouge does have something on the Prince.  

Though I still believe Biancheri kept the three million for himself and the Prince continued to go along with the bad guys, even though he knew they were bad, because he lacked backbone for standing up to them and preferred the path of least resistance. 

Or maybe the Prince was afraid to stand up to them? 

Princess Caroline’s second husband, Stefano Casiraghi, was connected to the Italian mafia, and brought it into the principality on building projects, much to the chagrin of the Pastor family, who otherwise enjoyed a virtual monopoly as the so-called “Prince’s Builder.”  

Apparently, Casiraghi threw a party at the Palace for two hundred of his unsavory Italian friends.  When Prince Rainier noticed some of them carrying guns, he put his foot down and said, No more—finito bon soir.  

The Italian mafia may have said finito bon soir to Casiraghi, who died in a freak boating accident soon after.  His widow freaked out over those underworld connections and a worried Prince Rainier retained extra bodyguards for her.  

As if to re-emphasize their point, the Italian mafia then tried to steal Casiraghi’s corpse from Monaco’s cathedral.  

They had intended to demand a ransom—the amount of their Monaco investment—in exchange for its safe return.


I flew with JL on March 28th to Luxembourg.  

Frank Schneider met us at the airport and I briefed him on our visit to San Marino on the ride into town.  

In an odd quirk of fate, Luca P’s Financial Intelligence Unit was not a government institution but controlled by San Marino’s central bank.  

Considering that San Marino’s government was run, alternately, by a five-family “democracy,” I saw this as a good thing, and Frank agreed.  

On behalf of his service, Frank had his own reasons for wanting a San Marino connection, so he was delighted with the outcome.

We had bilateral business to discuss, including a suspicious character officially resident in both Luxembourg and Monaco, contravening the laws of both countries.  

Frank intended to take steps to have him bounced. 

JL declined Police Chief Muhlberger’s invitation for a drink, saying he was about to travel to Washington, D.C.

“Ah you’re going to see Robert and his colleagues,” said a snide Muhlberger, adding that he hated Americans, Brits, and Germans—but Americans and Brits most especially.  “Americans are stupid—you can see them a mile away.  Brits are devious—you cannot trust them.”  

(JLA’s sole mistake had been the selection of this horrible bigot as Monaco’s police chief.)


JL and I flew into Washington together.  I pointed out the Potomac River below. 


“Do you know why it’s brown?” I asked. 

“No.”


“Most of America’s poultry farms are in Maryland, along the Potomac.  They dump all their fowl waste into the river and it flows south down to a swamp—my nation’s capital. 


"And that’s why Washington is a chicken-shit town, full of assistant secretaries of flatulence.”

Next evening I introduced JL to a CIA team—all new faces—who took us to dinner at Café Milano. 

CIA, it transpired, had not ever taken Micro-Europe seriously, despite its association with dirty money.  

The CIA dealt with Monaco through Paris, Liechtenstein through Switzerland and had no contact whatsoever—directly or indirectly—with Andorra and San Marino. 

“Do you think we should?” asked one of the team.  

(No wonder, at lunch the next day, a recently retired CIA officer said to me about his rapidly-disintegrating former employer, “Don’t you get it?  It’s over.”)

Bottom line:  CIA met JL and reaffirmed their willingness to train him.  

As we walked away from CIA’s contingent at the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, JL turned to me and asked with genuine concern, “Do you really think they can teach me anything?”  

As for training dates:  

LIPS in Paris had told us he was waiting for Langley to decide. 

Langley now told us they were waiting for LIPS in Paris to decide.  

Some things never changed.

Frank from Luxembourg manifested himself in Washington for a whirlwind of intrigue based upon our bilateral projects, including an introduction to Clair George and a chance encounter with another spook leading to a whole new project, prompting Frank to ask me, “What did I do before I met you?”  

(I have a tendency to keep people busy.)

I emailed HUNT for a Monaco update:  

What’s going on over there?

He emailed back:  

You got it right—it’s over here.

Wrote an asset close to the Prince:  

Albert used to run away from his father—now he runs away from decisions.