Monday, August 17, 2020

54. SERGEY AND HIS REUBEN CONSPIRACY



Cafe de Paris, Monte Carlo


On Retainer to Prince Albert of Monaco

June 2005


Ian M, formerly of SIS, arrived at M-Base the evening of June 1st at 9:30. 

This occurred to me as the Det Collector drove us up to Hotel Hermitage:  

I not only knew Monaco’s biggest secrets, many of them were of my own making.

We waited in the bar.  

At 10:50, Sergey entered, a gruff formidable presence if comically garbed in white slacks and shiny white loafers, accompanied by Oksana, his interpreter (also his lover, it later transpired). 

Sergey spoke little English.  He had jet-black (dyed) hair and misaligned eyes that eluded contact.  He would look away when spoken to, affecting aloofness, as if he didn’t give a crap what anyone had to say. 

As Ian told me later, “He’s ex-special forces.  To get where he’s gotten, you have to crawl over broken glass and hot coals.” 

Sergey alternated between cliché and proverb to pretend profundity.

We ambled across Place du Casino to CafĂ© de Paris. 

Sergey was not pleased with our choice but at this late hour it was this or go hungry.  He grunted reluctant acquiescence; we sat in the open-air and ordered a bottle of red wine.  

When the waiter tried to pour a glass for Oksana, Sergey snarled at her, “No.”  

To further impress us with his command, Sergey told us he’d met the French prime minister earlier in the day.

I outlined what we—our service—had in mind for a relationship. 

Sergey said, Yeah, that’s fine, but I need to hear it from the Prince.  

“If he’s serious,” sneered Sergey, “there is much we can do.  The Prince has much trouble to deal with in Monaco.”

I replied, “At the risk of sounding immodest, that’s why I’m here.”


After four-and-half hours sleep, I prepared for a busy day.  

My deputy positioned himself downstairs to greet the Prince, who arrived at 9:05.  

Ian briefed Albert on Sergey, whom we expected any moment, and I provided the Prince with written talking points:  

1) We wish to open a secret, unofficial liaison with Russian special services to address our mutual concerns:  organized crime, money laundering and terrorism.  

2) Robert Eringer is my intelligence advisor.  Everything goes through him and he reports only to me.  Eringer’s role, and his relationship with me, is completely separate from Monaco’s government structure.  When you speak with him, it is like speaking with me.  

3) We have no tolerance for terrorist finance in Monaco. If you have information that terrorists from Chechnya keep money in Monaco, we will work with you and take measures.

Ian offered an addendum:  the Russians should not try any “wet stuff” against oligarchs on Monaco territory.  

The Prince scribbled on the bottom of the paper:  No illegal actions in Monaco.

Ian descended to greet Sergey, leaving the Prince and I to discuss other matters. 

We needed a police contact with whom I could work, especially with regard to the Biancheri investigation.  

The Prince suggested Jean-Raymond Gottlieb, whom he phoned on the spot and told, “Eringer will call, give him anything he asks.”

The doorbell rang. 

The Prince lifted his right buttock cheek and let fly a thunderous cheezer.  

“Sorry,” he said.  “Had to let that one go before the General arrived.”

Sergey sauntered into the living room and actually smiled as he shook the Prince’s hand.  

We took our seats around the table.

The Prince ran through his talking points.  

Sergey grunted.  

I mentioned our interest in Alexey Fedorichev. 

Sergey confirmed Fedorichev was bad, but added, “He has no blood on his hands—he can be controlled.”

I mentioned our Serbian target. 

Sergey remained poker-faced and quiet until we provided him room to fill the silence.  

“We can tame these people,” he finally said.  “Or deal with them conclusively if you wish.”

The Prince and I exchanged glances and, miraculously, kept our faces straight.


Two hours later, Ian brought Sergey and Oksana down to the port, where I’d chartered a small yacht for an afternoon cruise.  

Sergey had worn a coat and tie for his meeting with the Prince, but now was back to white slacks, white loafers and matching white belt, and a jazzy silk shirt with blue stripes and black fish, unbuttoned halfway down his husky chest.  


We cruised into Villefranche and berthed for lunch at La Mere Germaine: pouilly fume, lobster salad and grilled turbot; Sergey warmed up significantly, mostly because he’d met the Prince, and he offered, in true Russian tradition, about 15 toasts. 

He finally made eye contact, more of an eyeball grip, a challenge I always welcome.  

We finished with flaming crepes splashed with Grand Marnier, and snifters of a 1975 Armagnac.

Ian told Sergey, “When you do your traces on Robert you will probably find interesting things” (as in FBI counterintelligence, fooling his comrades with ruses) “but the road of life has brought him here and he is not connected to either the US or UK government, but works only for the Prince.”

During a stroll at our last stop, Menton, Sergey draped his arm around my shoulder and invited me to his 50th birthday party come November in Moscow.  (Not to be. My previous undercover exploits with the FBI precluded traveling to Russia.)  

Sergey treated me like his new best friend, but hadn’t told me anything he didn’t want me to know.

I asked after former KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, one of the comrades I’d rused for the FBI while targeting CIA defector Edward Lee Howard.

“Getting old, unwell, hospital recently,” replied Sergey.  “No influence anymore.”


The Prince returned to M-Base the following afternoon for a meeting with EJ, Latvia’s interior minister, telling him, as he had Sergey, “Cracking down on corruption and organized crime will be a priority of my reign.” 

EJ departed after 20 minutes, delighted to have engaged his country in a covert relationship with the Prince—and why not?  

The glamorous principality was (still is) a magnet for money and intrigue; it was a no-brainer that intelligence services of other countries should want to get to know us, on two levels:  

1) Legitimate strategic interests, usually related to money laundering.

2) It is a heck of a nice place to visit at government expense. 

With 125 nationalities squeezed into the second smallest country in the world, and most of its occupants rich from dirty deals, coupled with a highly confidential banking system, Monaco is an investigator’s paradise—a holy grail for intelligence work. 

I thrilled the Prince with anecdotes about cruising the Med with Sergey, whom we agreed was a piece of work.  

Although the Russian had shown little reaction to our Serbian target’s name when broached in M-Base, he’d pointed out the Serbian's large villa on Cap Martin from the boat. 

My role as intelligence chief—dealing with strange characters, investigating corrupt insiders, without official status—was putting me into potentially precarious territory.  

Especially since the only person who could get me out of trouble if, say, the French detained me going in or out of Nice Airport, was the Prince—and he was not the easiest person in the world to reach.  

So I asked the Prince to write a note I could carry in my wallet, a kind of Get out of jail free card. 

And this he did: 



While EJ (the Latvian interior minister) was still in town, I briefed him on our Serbian, who had business interests in Latvia.  

My objective, with this individual, as with all bad actors, was to motivate other services to watch and monitor, build files, cooperate, possibly prosecute, possibly recruit, or at the very least make their world smaller.

Oksana invited me to lunch the following day, a Sunday, June 5th, requesting I plant myself outside Hotel Negresco’s entrance at ten past twelve noon precisely.  

I was on time; they were 20 minutes late (so much for punctuality, a tenet of good intelligence work). Sergey sported the same boating togs as two days before. 

Their driver, Olivier, a Frenchman (and probably a DST informant) drove a large black Mercedes with Monaco tags.   

I climbed into the backseat with Oksana, and, to the soothing strains of Rachmaninoff, we rolled off toward St. Paul de Vence.

Sergey turned to face me.  “Are you comfortable?”  

(This is what Vladimir Kryuchkov would ask traitors, in person, the night before their executions.)

“Yes, thanks.”

Sergey was less concerned about Oksana’s comfort.   

Because although she wore stiletto heels, Sergey made her walk the perimeter of St. Paul, up and down stairs, on mostly cobble-stoned streets, as he serenaded me with platitudes couched as profundity. 


We drove on to Bacon, at his request, a highly regarded Michelin-starred restaurant on Cap d’Antibes.  

Sergey told me he’d been a customer there for ten years.  

Here was a Russian government official living like an oligarch, paying everything in cash, which Oksana produced in thick wads.  

He bossed the restaurant’s staff to a point where I became convinced they would sabotage his meal.  

I ordered ravioli stuffed with loup (sea bass) and truffle in a pepper cream sauce, followed by bouillabaisse, which may be the best I’ve ever had, perfectly paired with Montrachet chardonnay.

I asked Sergey if he thought he was under surveillance.  He told me they (the French) watched him only the first day.  “The driver thinks we are rich Russians who want to buy a villa.” 

What if the driver is a French agent? I posed. 

“If he’s a problem,” Sergey growled with bravado, “he’ll end up in a forest. Or a desert.”

Sergey cracked spiny lobster shells with his teeth and revealed “the two biggest threats facing Albert and Monaco”:  

1) Prominent Monegasque families.  

2) The French.

Corrupt deals, he said, were intermingled between both categories.

He told me the French special services kept close tabs on the Prince wherever he traveled, whatever he did.  

“Someone with a very close position to the Prince reports everything to the French—and very fast,” he added.

It was easy for me to guess who.

On another front, I mentioned the name Jean-Paul Carteron. 

Sergey perked up and identified Carteron as the link between Bulgarian organized crime and the Bulgarian prime minister, which validated a tenuous report we’d received from another source.

Sergey grew solemn and said there were “dark forces in France, Italy, and Germany who want to unseat Prince Albert and replace him with [Princess] Caroline and [her husband] Ernst.”  Not a short-term project, he said, but one that would evolve over the next few years.

Sergey told me that “one-third of Monaco’s government want to see Prince Albert fail.”  

And he specifically requested I convey this message to the Prince:  

The danger comes from those closest to you.  

It is vitally important, he added, that the Prince demonstrate strong leadership early on to prevent the French government and prominent Monegasque families from running Monaco.

We drove silently in dense traffic back to Hotel Hermitage, where I got out and said goodbye.  Sergey said he’d call and we’d meet again soon. 


I turned to leave but the driver pressed to take me where I wanted to go. 

I said, “No thanks, I’ll walk,” at which point he became very insistent, offering twice more to drive me onward.  

I declined, and dry-cleaned my trail all the way back to M-Base.


At ten o’clock next morning, I met with Jean-Raymond Gottlieb, to whom the Prince referred me for police support.  

Gottlieb was part of SIGER, Monaco’s three-officer police intelligence unit.  

We had a favorable first meeting and established a good rapport, and agreed to share intelligence. 

Protocol dictated that Gottlieb could not contact the Prince directly, even though he had fathered Princess Stephanie’s eldest daughter, so he delighted in my arrangement.  

Gottlieb was certain that others in the protocol chain filtered intelligence to suit their own agendas and that nothing of significance from his unit ever reached the Palace.

Immediately, we joined forces on the investigation into Franck Biancheri’s corrupt activities. 

Gottlieb was also aware of Bruno Philipponnat’s impropriety and alleged kickbacks.   

In addition, we voiced our mutual concern about some of the Prince’s “friends”:  Carl Carlsson, Gocha Arivadze—and Michael McNamara, the latter alleged to have beaten girlfriends and threatened them with expulsion from Monaco should they dare complain, citing friendship with the Prince.


Early that afternoon, CIA delivered an industrial-strength shredder to M-Base.  

Afterwards, I hosted a meeting of the Prince’s long-time friends—Mike P, Francesco B, and Jean-Marc G—to hear their concerns about corruption.  

They resolved to bring Stephane Valeri, President of the Conseil Nationale, to M-Base to voice his concerns directly to me.

Not two hours later, Monaco’s highest elected official appeared on my doorstep.  

President Valeri explained that he’d lunched with Franck Biancheri two weeks before, at which he had offered the finance minister an opportunity to admit his mistakes.  Biancheri rebuffed him.  So Valeri categorically revealed to me the muck he had raked on his fellow Monegasque.  

As he prepared to leave M-Base, Valeri held his hands in prayer and implored of me, “Please save my country.”

I would have been complimented.  Except I knew what Valeri really meant: Please help me quash my political enemies.

That evening, I met again with Jean-Raymond Gottlieb.  He brought with him his SIGER unit partner, Yves Subraud, a captain with 28 years on Monaco’s police force.  

Subraud had special responsibility for monitoring the Islamic fundamentalist community in and around the principality.  He echoed Gottlieb’s pleasure about having a direct route to the Prince through our special service. 

“Nothing gets through,” Subraud told me. “Thank God someone can now get the message across.” 

We discussed Biancheri, the main reason I needed a police contact.  

“Valeri has dirt on Biancheri and Biancheri has dirt on Valeri,” explained Subraud.  “They had lunch two weeks ago and each told the other of their desires,” he confirmed.  “They made an agreement to keep each other’s dirt secret.”  

It hadn’t taken Valeri long to break their agreement.

Said Gottlieb:  “Tomorrow we go to work for you.”


Two days later, back in London, I met Ian M at the bar of the Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street.  

He thought Sergey’s assessment about what Prince Albert should be concerned about was spot on.  

“Albert has one whack at getting it right from the get-go,” said Ian.  “He needs to clean house.”

I returned to Monaco two days later, June 11th for meetings with operatives and assets, and to brief the Prince. 

Though I presented myself at the residence entrance, as stipulated by the Prince, the Carabinieri (Palace Guard) sent me to the wood-paneled waiting room, where passage of time is slowed and accentuated by the ticking of an old clock.

When I was summoned to the private parlor 75 minutes later, the Prince apologized.  “They don’t know what they’re doing around here—they should have brought you here and given you something to drink.”

We faced one another in a pair of wing chairs beneath a high ceiling and picture window looking toward the Tete de Chien

“This may be our most important meeting yet,” I began.  “There is too much smoke to appoint Franck Biancheri chef de cabinet.  And probably grounds to remove him as finance minister.”

I worked my way through a number of alleged transgressions, ranging from conflicts of interests to secret kickbacks to fraud.

The Prince confided something he claimed he had not told another soul: he hd decided to pass on Biancheri and appoint someone else.

He said he needed all the ammunition he could muster; that he intended to announce is intentions on July 13th, the day after his investiure, and he anticipated an onslaught of indignation from Biancheri and his allies in the government.

I reemphasized the importance of making the right personnel decisions up front, to make a bold statement that the corrupt status quo is no longer acceptable, that the Prince is firmly in control of his principality.  

I suggested a zero based review, whereby everyone in official positions would be required to offer their resignations while their status and records were put to review by a new chef de cabinet.       

The important thing, I advised, was for the Prince to flex muscle and exert power, not be frightened of making dramatic decisions against the status quo.  

The less power the Prince exerted, the more others would exert theirs and chip away at his authority.

With hindsight, it was probably a mistake for the intelligence apparatus I had created to delve into internal corruption.  This was a police matter; law enforcement, not intelligence.  

But as the Prince himself pointed out to me:  a) the police had not been doing its job properly, b) he did not trust the police, and c) whatever police reports were issued to the interior ministry were either filtered or blocked entirely from reaching the Prince.  

Morale within the police force was at an all time low, and many in its ranks complained about their alcoholic chief.  

Little wonder Gottlieb and Subraud were thrilled by the relationship we created.

With regard to CIA issues:  if ever there were an Islamic terror incident in Monaco, we now knew exactly whose real estate holdings to seize.  

Quipped the Prince:  “We’ll have M-Bases everywhere!”

With these more substantive issues out the way, I regaled the Prince with FLOATER’s latest Operation Hound Dog exploits.

More journalists and sources had been met, providing us with hard information about who leaked what from the Prince’s royal court.  

And, of course, FLOATER’s recent meeting with Paris Clique clowns Steven Saltzman and Thierry Lacoste in the French capital.  

I read FLOATER’s report aloud:


A bizarre situation from the start with Steven Saltzman (SS).  He’s loud, rude, aggressive, obnoxious and overbearing.  SS played the dominant role while Thierry Lacoste (TL) patiently listened to me and played off  SS’s commentary.  SS took the meeting as a way of assessing if he, with TL’s assistance, could take control of the project under an “authorized” agreement.  “Listen,” said SS loudly, “you can do this two ways.  The first is make this an authorized biography for which Thierry will write a legal agreement that gives him full editorial approval, including galley proofs.  In return, you get access to extraordinary sources, some of which have never been heard from before.  You also get access to the subject of your book.”


“You could have an attorney,” TL interjected, implying that going forward was based upon retaining him for a fee.  “Or you can go the unauthorized way, which means you’ll get nothing from me or anyone else who asks the Palace if this has approval.”  Trying to ingratiate myself, without committing this project to them, I said I would not travel to Togo to exploit recent news coverage about Nicole Coste and her son.  TL smirked at SS and said, “Well maybe you should.”

Next, I conveyed Sergey’s caution about “dark forces in Europe who want Caroline and Ernst” running Monaco instead of Albert, mostly to gauge the Prince’s reaction.  

To my surprise, he did not scoff.

We agreed the weakest link in the Prince’s travel security was his helicopter. 

“I use it as little as possible,” he said quietly.
         

A few days later I flew to Frankfurt to meet with Sergey at his request—a day trip.  He and Oksana met me at the airport with a large black Mercedes and driver.  


We steered away from the city to Schlosshotel Kronberg, a German version of the Chevy Chase Club with fancy food—as much as I’d have settled for frankfurters and sauerkraut.  

Posturing himself as a lover of nature, Sergey insisted on a long stroll through the grounds, part landscaped, part wild.  About our Serbian target, he said, “Bad man, arms deals.  I can get rid of him in two months if you want.”

I did not want Sergey to get rid of anyone on our behalf, though his Mafiosi-like language amused me.  

We sat down to a gourmet meal of scallops and cucumber followed by veal with foie gras, lubricated with a bottle of fine Riesling.

Sipping carrot juice and cream, Sergey told me he had not seen President Putin between our first meeting in Monaco and now (two weeks later), “but he knows and approves,” he said, while Oksana paid cash for everything. 

In the next breath, Sergey told me that Monaco-bsased Brit Simon Reuben connects to “those Reubens in the United States.”

“What Reubens in the United States?” I asked.

“The State Department and the finance minister,” replied Sergey.

Huh?

He seemed to be suggesting that former State Department spokesman James Rubin and U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Ruben were all related into one huge Reuben Conspiracy.

Is Sergey wacko or what? I scribbled into Journal Number Seven.


Ian M later explained it away as an expression of old school Russian anti-Semitism.