Thursday, October 22, 2020

120. THUNDERBOLT


Van Stein: Lightning Strikes Over Monaco


On Retainer to Prince Albert of Monaco

December 2007


On December 8th I flew into a Nice covered in thick cloud and pouring rain—summoned to an uncertain fate.  

The Det Collector’s Mercedes wagon had broken down en route to meet me (a bad omen, never happened before), so I grabbed a taxi and rolled toward Monaco in darkness and gloom, which adequately reflected my mood.  

I jotted in my journal:  

Monaco was A2’s to lose.  He’s doing his best to lose it, badly misled by cronies whose hearts are filled with jealousy and avarice.

The electricity was out when I arrived at M-Base.  It turned out to be a fuse-box problem, as if someone had been inside and switched off the mains.


Earlier, we had learned from a liaison partner that the “offshore” financial centers of Europe—particularly Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, and Monaco—had been chatted about as potential targets by terrorist cells, and we continued to feel that Monaco’s port was vulnerable.


So, JL had been busy, at my instruction, collating a number of SIGER reports over a ten-year period on Islamic fundamentalists living and working in and around Monac, into one cohesive document, which he’d bound for circulation among our executive committee circle of Interior Minister Masseron, Police Chief Muhlberger and the Prince.  

It reflected our concern that the fundamentalists, mostly Moroccan and Algerian, had, for whatever reason, concentrated themselves in jobs around Monaco’s main port.


Over wild boar in Sans Souci on Boulevard des Moulins in Monte Carlo, JL and I devised a plan for dealing with Palmero’s summons three days hence.  

I still had not heard from the Prince and I was discomfited by the notion of walking so visibly into a Palace meeting without his knowledge.  

No one at the Palace but the Prince knew of JL's involvement with this service.  

We decided at dinner to play that card.


December 9th was Police Chief Andre Muhlberger’s birthday.  When he arrived in M-Base at eleven that morning, JL and I gifted him with a bottle of Dom Perignon.  

We went out on the balcony to take the air, the view.


“Don’t lean on the guard rail,” I cautioned.  “We never know if someone’s been here in our absence to loosen the screws.”

He jumped back.

I told Muhlberger we would now relinquish the corruption investigations to him and focus exclusively on intelligence matters.  

The Prince had still not taken action against Narmino, ever raising the threshold for more evidence (as if anymore was needed...).  

I offered to assist Muhlberger with this investigation, which he would now lead, through our liaison partners.  

I listed for Muhlberger the other individuals and entities on which he could take action.  

And we provided Muhlberger with a copy of our report, Islamic Identities & Their Activities Surrounding the Principality of Monaco.


Monday morning, December 11th:  

There are strangers in M-Base.  I stand listening behind my locked bedroom door, wishing I had the baseball bat parked by the front door.  

Proust
Just another dream.

My first visitor, at eight o’clock, was Interior Minister Masseron.

On Jean-Paul Proust:  Masseron told me I’d vexed the minister of state because he thought JLA brought me in but now understood I operated for the Prince.

  

However, Proust was feeling too pumped up with JLA out of his way to make waves about this.  He had attempted to insert two French intelligence officers—one from DST, the other from DGSE—into SIGER, but Masseron prevented this, he said. 

Alain Malric, he added, was teed off because I‘d prevented him from creating an intelligence service and “desperately” trying to dig up dirt on me.

On Igor Yurgens:  Masseron clarified the situation, calling it “crazy,” as indeed it was.  Yurgens name had been published by the Journal that officially announced such things.  However, Yurgens had never been sent a letter from the Prince to confirm his appointment as Monaco’s honorary consul to Moscow—because there was no address on file for him.

Olga Kim and her ex-husband Mikhail Nekrich:  Expelled from the principality three weeks earlier and, along with daddy Oleg, declared persona non grata. 

After Masseron departed, JL and I swung our Palmero plan into action:  

At precisely 9:15, JL phoned Palmero’s office and left a message with his secretary that Palmero should phone JL urgently, that it dealt with his ten o’clock appointment with Eringer. 


Painting: Van Stein

JL's phone jingled three minutes later and he explained to Palmero that he was calling on my behalf to say I had not received the Prince's authorization to attend a meeting with him at the Palace and that I could not expose myself at the Palace without authorization from Albert.




If Palmero still wanted to meet, he was told, it would have to be at M-Base, where I met people in a secure environment.  

We offered a car and driver to collect and return him. 

Palmero huffed and puffed.  Nobody, he told JL, treated a summons to the Palace this way.

JL apologized, but firmly restated that a meeting today could take place only under these conditions.


Palmero

Palmero arrived at M-Base, feathers seriously ruffled.  

I introduced JL as “working closely with me.”  

Palmero, clearly, was shaken by this unexpected dimension.  

JL departed and Palmero sat stiffly on the edge of my sofa. 




“I have been instructed by the Prince, before he left on his trip, to terminate your contract,” he said, adding that this was due to “reorganization.”  

He followed this by offering to pay one quarter of 2007 “and maybe a month or two beyond if you have not found something else [to do].”  

In other words, please leave quietly.

I motioned with my arms at the furnishings around us.  

“What am I supposed to do about this place?  It’s not my home.  I work here.  The Prince recently authorized me to extend the lease for six months.” 

This surprised Palmero.  

“Okay,” he said, “so we pay until the Grand Prix [in May].”

“I spoke to the Prince ten days ago and he gave me no indication of this,” I said.       

Again, Palmero expressed surprise. 

“We have two important meetings scheduled this Thursday for visitors coming to Monaco from other countries,” I said.  “They expect to meet with the Prince here in this apartment.  Am I to assume that the Prince will not attend, based on this so-called termination?

More surprise from Palmero about such loose ends.  He said it would be an embarrassment for the Prince if he did not appear. 

I agreed.  “So what should I do?” I asked.

Palmero told me he would meet with the Prince on Wednesday and remind him of his commitments. 

“Of course,” I said, “I will have to confirm with the Prince what you say about terminating my contract.” 

Palmero encouraged me to do that.

I thanked Palmero for coming to M-Base. 

“No, don’t thank me,” he said, more discomfited than ever.  

He tried to rise, but fell back onto the sofa with full force and this rattled him further.  Then he steadied himself and rose to his feet.  

I walked Palmero to the elevator, shook his hand, looked him in the eye and thanked him again before the doors closed.

 JL reappeared. 

“Termination,” I said. 

He was stunned.  By this time, JL fully understood the scope, commitment and progress of our service and its intrinsic value to the Prince as a source of independent, unfiltered intelligence. So he was floored. 

“We do this like JLA,” I said.  “With dignity, heads held high.  You okay with that?”

“I survived buggering-minded monks when I was eight years-old,” replied JL.  “I think I can handle this.”

I realized I had to cancel Thursday’s meetings with CIA and SIS.  There was too much doubt about whether or not the Prince would appear and I did not trust Palmero to remind him.  

And I could not have our visitors treated this way.

 

First I phoned LIPS, the CIA station chief in Paris.  

“Shall we reschedule?” he asked, not quite getting it. 

“We’re in clean-up and close-down mode,” I said.  “This is cancellation, not postponement.”

Next, I phoned my SIS contact in London to say our meeting had been disrupted.  

“Come down if you want,” I said, “but I can’t guarantee my boss will appear.”  

They canceled.

I kept my lunch date with a Monaco banker who vaguely knew of my work for the Prince.  He told me that bank clients would depart en masse if they ever believed Monaco was unstable and in the hands of corrupt persons.

At 3:30, LIDDY appeared at M-Base, a meeting scheduled one week earlier.  

I did not have an agenda; my mind raced with the ramifications of termination.  

So I just let LIDDY talk.

First, French intelligence had an interest in the Reuben brothers and could not understand why Simon Reuben had been allowed back in Monaco—and with privileged status?  Neither could I.  Next?

Second: “The Paris Freemasons don’t usually get along with the Narmino clique,” said LIDDY.  “But on one issue they are united:  to destroy our intelligence service.  It is a war,” he added.

Neither JL nor I had uttered one word to LIDDY about what had transpired that morning with Palmero. And we remained close-lipped as LIDDY continued.

LIDDY looked straight at me. “Three weeks ago, it was decided to discredit you on the basis that you were using secret information for private purposes and gain.  There will be an attack within the next ten days.”

“An attack?” 

“It should have happened, or is happening,” said LIDDY.  “Beginning of next week for sure.”  LIDDY paused.  “At first they didn’t take you seriously, but when they saw how serious you are, they decided they had to end it.  When you’re too effective, it will become dangerous.”  

LIDDY added that the local DST had been studying the situation closely and were “worried and pissed off because good work is going to waste.”

LIDDY was not surprised when I told him I had to discontinue our retainer of him.  He expected it.  

I gave LIDDY the medal he deserved, an American silver dollar.  It was all I had.

Subraud and Gottlieb were next to appear at M-Base, at five o’clock that afternoon.  They had more news on the missing Red Cross Miro:

The misappropriated donation had been acquired through Charles Debbasch, a convicted arms dealer (weapons traffic between Togo and the Ivory Coast) and ex-partner of Jean-Paul Carteron in the Crans Montana Forum.  

From our demeanor, the boys from SIGER sensed something was wrong.  


JL and I confided in them. 

Both were stunned.  

One of them immediately said he would retire; the other suggested we go underground to continue our work without authorization.  

We all agreed that Police Chief Muhlberger should know.  I phoned him and, without saying what it was about, requested he visit M-Base for an urgent meeting at 7:30 next morning. 

I was still shell-shocked, my mind consumed with the deconstruction of an intelligence service.  

On one hand, it made no sense; on the other, it made all the sense in the world.  

We had too visibly threatened the bad guys—they wanted us out of there.  

The Prince was either too weak to stand up to them or too blind to notice—probably both, on top of which, he would, as always, take the path of least resistance.

JL put it another way:  “My cousin doesn’t understand it.  Watching him with the Romanians, I knew he was thinking, what the f--- am I doing here.”

Another possibility:  The bad guys had serious leverage over the Prince.  

Some were certainly aware that he had fathered a third illegitimate child.  

Others were privy to the Prince’s sex-capades, including deviant sexual behavior too distasteful to divulge, including an unhealthy appetite for a particularly disgusting genre of pornographic video. 

My concern was how to break the news of our termination to the other intelligence services.  

They would see it for what it was:  

The Prince is not a serious leader; he is not serious about cleaning up his principality.

Furthermore, the Prince's speech about introducing a new ethic to his principality was nothing more than old crock.       

I scribbled this notation into my journal, to bolster my own sagging morale:  

Everything I did was in service to the Prince, carefully avoiding any conflict of interest.  I regret nothing.  I acted professionally at all times.  I did an excellent job, respected by the intelligence services with which I’d created and maintained effective liaison relationships.  We were too damned honest and efficient for our own good.



That evening, by myself, I returned to Hotel Columbus for a dry martini at the same booth where, 54 months earlier, the Prince had requested my assistance to ensure that once upon the throne he could crack down on the bad guys. 

Yeah, right.






Then I took MARTHA, my Russian spy, to Le Beefbar in Fontvieille for Argentine entrecote and a bottle of fine Margaux.