Friday, October 9, 2020

107. THE CROC GETS ANGRY

 

Thierry Lacoste


On Retainer to Prince Albert of Monaco

Summer 2006


I recruited a new agent:  a Russian born female, very bright with stunning looks, and good Russian contacts around the principality.  

More importantly, she was employed at Sotrama, the Monaco-based company linked to President Putin that we suspected of money laundering.  

I code-named her MARTHA, after Martha Mitchell.


(We already had LIDDY and HUNT and I rather enjoyed a Watergate theme.)





MARTHA revealed that Sotrama declared only 100,000 euros per month to Monaco’s fiscal authorities, just the amount needed for salaries and operations and a small profit.  

But in actual fact, this oil distribution and trading company was laundering “millions and millions” of euros per month for its parent company Horizon Oil Terminal in St. Petersburg.  

MARTHA attended a party in Cap Ferrat, at which Sotrama’s chief executive proposed a toast to the Russian president, saying, “Without Putin none of this would be possible.”


At 12:30 a.m. on August 22nd (2006), the Prince came to M-Base and we talked for almost two hours in the quiet of night—the first and only time the Prince was not interrupted by cell phones.  We discussed a variety of topics, starting with his recent travels in the USA, where he’d visited Mount Rushmore, and my experience infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan in the late 1970s.  

It was a good warm up for the topics that followed.

I briefed the Prince on the SICCFIN/Liechtenstein fracas over Andorra and confirmed that the first formal meeting of our informal association would convene in Luxembourg on October 24th.  

The Prince was enthused—excited, even, about this.

The Prince was also pleased to learn Paul Masseron had been to M-Base and that soon-to-be police chief Andre Muhlberger would follow.

Narmino:  The proof was in.  I presented our new documentation to the Prince, explaining that Slovenia’s intelligence chief played back to me the precise routing of the funds without me ever telling him that element of our investigation.  The Prince nodded grimly and told me he would take action.  The Prince asked me, should he offer Narmino an explanation for sacking him?

“No, just dismiss him,” I said.  “He should come to you for an explanation.  When he does, just show him the documents.”

And finally, funding:  I made my case, again, that our whole team was working overtime. We’d built a solid little service from scratch on a shoestring, an investment in the Prince’s future.  

With my name out there now, I probably needed a bodyguard, but I couldn’t justify the cost in view of other needs.  

The Prince appreciated how well we performed:  he increased our budget by 25 percent.

Despite so positive a meeting, I think I understood the Prince’s psyche by now.

For only one day later, I jotted in my journal: A2 does not really care, [he’s] just going through the motions.

Even with increased funding, I wrote myself a note to terminate my service to the Prince on June 30th 2007, five years after it began, giving myself ten months to establish the Micro-Europe intelligence association and the restructuring of SIGER.   

And just two weeks later, after bouncing through London to Washington, D.C. to California and back again to London, then a delayed EasyJet flight from Luton to Nice, I scribbled:  My heart no longer in this.

Back in M-Base, I was beset by new intrigue.  

Months earlier, Proust and Biancheri had tried to pitch JLA on commissioning Kroll, the private investigation consultants, to produce a study on how to remove Monaco from OECD’s tax haven blacklist.  

JLA had shot it down on the basis that such a ploy would make Monaco look bad.  

He thought he’d killed it, but Proust and Biancheri went forward anyway, behind JLA’s back.  Months later, someone began a campaign of phoning JLA’s former employers to enquire about him.  

Who authorized this?  Was it somehow connected to Kroll?

LIDDY had the answer, even though I asked him about it as an aside after plowing through a number of items on both our dockets.  It wasn’t an answer he wanted to provide, but I went at it a number of ways, prepared not to let him leave M-Base until I knew.  

LIDDY finally responded, couching it in whimsical hypothetical terms, but the answer was clear:  Thierry Lacoste was trying to dig whatever dirt he could on JLA with a view to having him replaced.  

LIDDY had not thought to mention this on his own because he had not perceived it as a danger to our mission.  

I corrected him:  any threat to JLA was a threat to the good work we were doing in service to the Prince.

After LIDDY departed, I zapped an email to JLA saying I had an answer to the mystery we’d discussed.  JLA phoned me immediately and was utterly astonished by my news, having met for breakfast with Lacoste the morning before in Paris, and confiding in him to boot.  

“You warned me when I arrived in November about Lacoste’s kitchen cabinet,” JLA said to me.  “You were right.”

JLA instantly phoned the Prince to convey this information, and called me back.  “The Prince wants to hear all the details from you.”

And next morning, indeed, the Prince phoned.  “Doctor Eringer?”

“Yes, my patient.”

“I need an antidote for Thierry Lacoste.”

“I’m working on a cocktail.”

“That might ease the pain.” 

 We agreed to meet early evening.

After a long day of meetings with the interior minister, POLO, MARTHA, and others, I welcomed the Prince to M-Base.  He seemed relaxed in a striped shirt and khaki trousers and freshly shaven head.  

He had just met with the Venezuelan education minister.  (“Did he educate you on Hugo Chavez?” I asked.)

Over martinis, I related the Kroll/Lacoste story, trying to put everything into proper perspective—and deescalate the situation.  

“Everybody around you will constantly try to undercut everybody else around you in a never-ending war for greater access and influence,” I said.  “Everybody especially wants to cut away at JLA, who now stands in the way of everyone who ever expected to reap much influence and power during your reign by merit of their friendship with you.  Thierry Lacoste’s behavior was to be expected.  My only surprise is that anyone is surprised.” 

I reminded the Prince that Lacoste tried to do me in as well; that Lacoste had complained to him about me when I’d supposedly interfered in the Rotolo affair, after he’d asked me to assist, after his own incompetence had become obvious.  


“The best thing,” I said, “is rise above it.  As Walter Bagehot wrote in The English Constitution, royalty must rise above the fray to retain its mystique.”  I added, “You’re good at this anyway.” 

It was true.  In addition to a pathological fear of commitment, the Prince suffered a pathological fear of confrontation.

I took the opportunity to provide the Prince our Narmino intelligence:  We had identified the two banks in San Marino that received alleged kickbacks and we possessed documentation that a charity called Mission Innocence had allegedly been used by Narmino and two Monegasque accountants to launder money.

I was weary from investigating internal government corruption.  It belonged in the realm of law enforcement, not intelligence, albeit the Prince needed this kind of intelligence to establish the fundamentals necessary to go forward.  

That’s why I was delighted to meet Monaco’s new police chief, Andre Muhlberger. 

Four of us assembled at M-Base at 7:30 in the morning on September 14th:  JLA, Masseron, Muhlberger and myself.   

I briefed Muhlberger on my mission then focused on the importance of reorganizing SIGER to become the official arm of what I was doing, akin to the UK MI5/Special Branch model.  

Masseron told us that Proust had shared my name with him and Alain Malric, but that he, Masseron, had not let on he was in regular contact with me.  

We agreed that our circle of four should become a kind of Executive Committee, and that it should be kept secret from the minister of state.

Mid-afternoon that day, waiting to board a delayed flight to London at Nice Airport, I received a phone call from an extremely irate Thierry Lacoste.  

Sounding like a man caught with his pants down, Lacoste denied that he had been digging dirt on JLA and demanded to know why I would tell this to the Prince.

I could not believe two things:  1) Why and how this was being blown out of proportion and 2) Why the Prince would be so indiscreet as to call Lacoste and say, “Robert told me…”

Was I back in kindergarten?

I explained to Lacoste that when I learned certain things from credible, tested sources, it was my duty to convey such things to the Prince, and for the Prince to decide whether or not it warranted further investigation.

Lacoste changed gears, commencing new rants:  “I heard you were investigating me?”  

Nonsense.  The only time Lacoste had featured in one of our investigations was when Steven Saltzman insisted he meet FLOATER in Lacoste’s office.  Lacoste himself was not a target in Operation Hound Dog.  I told him we never targeted him for investigation.

Rant two:  “French intelligence came to me and said they cannot tell you everything because of your connection with U.S. intelligence—but they can tell me.”  

So what?  If I were the French I’d feel the same, yet the DST and I had found a comfortable level on which to cooperate effectively.

Rant three:  “I hate Monaco and all its back-biting gossipers,” said Lacoste.  “That’s why I’d never live there.”

Although we agreed on a pact to hold fire on one another until we’d had a chance to meet and resolve this issue, Lacoste told me, in ominous tone, he would travel to Monaco the following day and spend the weekend with the Prince at Roc Agel.

The knives had now been unsheathed for me.

Truth be known, I did not care.  

I’d long since lost faith in the Prince’s ability to take decisive action.

I was tired from travel, weary from the constant carping of others, and I no longer enjoyed spending time in Monaco, everybody stirring it up against everybody else. 

As a wise man once said... 




Sure enough, next day brought word from JLA that Lacoste had demanded the Prince fire me for providing him “bad information.”  

The more I thought about this, the more I realized how good my information must have been to cause so violent a reaction.

From the Virgin Clubhouse at Heathrow Airport on my way to the United States, I spoke by phone with JL to convey my Lacoste encounter. 

He countered with his own story:  at dinner with Lacoste in Paris recently, the lawyer had bitched to him about JLA, saying, “I’m sorry I gave him the job.  I drew up the contract.  He is dangerous for the country.”   

Lacoste then introduced JL to Steven Saltzman, who suggested that “a group of us” will run things and asked, “What role would you like to have in the principality?”

We conceived a codename for Lacoste:  CROC.  

(Albeit a crocodile with rotted teeth.)

 

On September 28th, I received an email from interior minister Masseron:  “Can you have informations on M. Yurgens, our consul general honoraire in Moscow since October 24, 2005.  Is there problem with him?”

I could not believe my eyes.  I had briefed the Prince several times on Yurgens, pointing out that he was unsuitable a) because he had been a disinformation specialist for the KGB and b) no one in Monaco’s foreign ministry could vouch for him or had even heard of him!  

JLA had apparently halted the appointment.  Yet Yurgens, according to Masseron, was Monaco’s honorary consul in Moscow.


MARTHA contacted me with "urgent" news:  

Sergey Vasiliev, the Russian we suspected as the link between Horizon Oil Terminal in St. Petersburg and Sotrama, had arrived in Monaco for meetings with Sotrama’s chief executive, Michele Tecchia.  

It was the manner in which Vasiliev arrived that intrigued me:  a chartered helicopter from Italy to Monaco’s heliport; clearly, a ploy to avoid French border control.  

We had already connected Vasiliev to the Ta’ambov organized crime group in St. Petersburg.  

He apparently kept a Bentley garaged in Monaco and was said to be looking for a slip in the port to berth a boat he hoped to buy.

The Russian invasion of Monaco had begun.