Sunday, October 25, 2020

123. CLUB OF MONACO





On Retainer to Prince Albert of Monaco

February 2007


I arrived in Monaco on February 2nd to pack up M-Base. 

It simply was no longer  safe. 

The CIA came to collect their cryptographic phone/fax and I secured our files for safekeeping.  

On her previous trip down to see us, said LIPS’s assistant, two young men on grey BMW motorcycles with French plates had conducted overt, in-your-face surveillance all the way from Nice Airport to Monaco.

The Prince had not returned my calls to meet, so on February 23rd I slept late, strolled through Monte Carlo, caught a movie (Bobby), drank a glass of Margaux at Monte Carlo Wine Bar and dined solo at Quai des Artistes—the most relaxing day I’d spent in Monaco in years.   

I scribbled in my journal:  

We are going out with a whisper instead of a bang.

It was in such limbo that I hosted our association of intelligence services from small countries, on this occasion called the Club of Monaco.  

Welcoming our guests from Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, and Malta, I wrote:

 

         Dear Friends,

         With great pleasure, our micro-service welcomes you to our microstate.  Our objective is to eat well, drink fine, talk business to our mutual advantage and, most important, to laugh as much as we can.

         It was Sidney Reilly who coined the phrase “Trust no one” (and eventually got himself killed by trusting someone running something called—of all things—The Trust).  But trust us at least to show you a good time, even if, in the great tradition of Sir Francis Walsingham, we bankrupt ourselves in the process.

         It is truly spectacular to have you here.  We’re already moving mountains—and just cranking up.

         Robert Eringer, Director, M.I.S


On February 5th, the Club of Monaco convened in Hotel Columbus, where the participants lodged.  

I requested everyone remove the batteries from their cell phones.  

“I think I’ve made the French nervous,” I explained.

 If indeed I’d made the French nervous, it was for one or two reasons—maybe both—reasons I kept to myself:  

1) They had dirt on corrupt Monegasques and they liked it that way for their own leverage, as needed.


2) I knew about President Putin’s network of energy trading and distribution companies—and money laundering—along the Cote d’Azur, which the French could leverage to their advantage in negotiations to gain a long-term energy deal with Gazprom.  They were perhaps nervous that I might disrupt or compromise one or both, by design or accident.






First order of business: to give our association a permanent name.  

I proposed the Club of Luxembourg, after the largest of the microstates and also where we’d first formally convened.  

Everyone agreed except Marco Mille of Luxembourg, who modestly demurred.  

One participant suggested “something generic,” another suggested Columbus Group, as we were meeting inside Hotel Columbus.

I liked the poetry of this since it was in Columbus the Prince and I created what would become the Monaco Intelligence Service.  

It had been our center of gravity before M-Base and now again post-M-Base.

Next on the agenda, the status of other countries we would want to include.

Iceland:  They wanted to participate but were still in the midst of deciding whether their participants should be from their foreign ministry or defense ministry.

San Marino:  I still awaited the Italians.  Rene offered to help; his deputy had made a new contact in San Marino.  Let’s play it, I said.

Cyprus:  Malta had the best contacts and would consult with them, provide further discussion at our next club meeting.

Andorra and the Vatican:  I’d sent Christmas greetings to both—and an invitation to participate in this meeting.  Andorra ignored me; the Vatican emailed another blessing.

Next, I broached my peace institute concept.  

One participant felt it would interfere with the diplomatic efforts of his own country, but seized upon it with a refinement of his own:  

Who better to resolve conflict than intelligence services?  

They are well informed and know how to operate behind the scenes.  

Hence, this participant’s concept:  

We, the Columbus Group, invite representatives from ten-to-fifteen intelligence services, specifically from countries at odds with one another, to a reception hosted by our club.  We offer them our club’s services and our tiny countries to facilitate the patching up of their own countries’ differences, while tapping new members for Columbus.

Monaco would host the first reception—and we would do it the following October on… Columbus Day! 

We resolved to regroup in June—Malta offered to host our next club meeting—with each of us to short-list services to invite and together cull into a master invitation list.

We agreed to communicate amongst ourselves by Skype, a computer based telephone system thought to be the most secure of any at that time.

Following lunch in a private dining room, JL took participants on a tour of the principality, including a private visit to the wine cellar at Hotel de Paris, reputed to be the finest in Europe.


While JL entertained our Micro-European intelligence guests, I returned to M-Base to deal with a new matter:

  

Al-Shanfari
Thamer Bin Said Ahmed Al-Shanfari—an Omani-born con artist, persona non grata in the USA, convicted in the UK of entering Britain with a fake UK passport—and resident of Monaco. 



The Emir of Qatar had personally been conned by Al-Shanfari and wished me to convey to the Prince that he would consider it a personal favor if he would expel him from Monaco. 

Furthermore, Al-Shanfari was alleged to be dealing in conflict diamonds and laundering money.  

Jean-Paul Carteron, who hoped to do business in Oman through Al-Shanfari, had introduced him to Monaco police chief Andre Muhlberger. 

 

Since then, Muhlberger had been seen several times in Al-Shanfari’s company at Sass Café in Monte Carlo and it seemed the police chief was loathe to do anything about Al-Shanfari’s presence in Monaco, even though this Omani, clearly, was undesirable.

At 7:30, JL arrived with our Columbus fraternity at Monte Carlo Wine Bar, where my deputy and I waited, having rented out the upper floor for a tasting of superb wines.


Next morning, Marco Mille appeared at M-Base to meet the Prince, who arrived fifteen minutes later. 

I showed the Prince a Club of Monaco program, which he read. And I briefed him on the Columbus Group’s plan for the future, which he approved.  

I then turned the meeting over to Marco, who provided a succinct and inspirational soliloquy on the usefulness—from his perspective—of Monaco’s intelligence service.  

He spoke of his own model in Luxembourg, which I felt we should adopt for MIS:  

Meetings once a month with the head of government, nothing in writing, the head of state can always be reached in an emergency.

The Prince was unusually attentive—very focused, and riveted by Marco’s words. Afterwards he asked thoughtful questions of Marco. 

Was Marco’s Luxembourg service in contact with Monaco before the existence of the Monaco Intelligence Service and my initiative?  

Answer:  No.  Furthermore, Marco explained, before my initiative Luxembourg also lacked any meaningful contact with Liechtenstein.   

Did Luxembourg intelligence brief the Grand Duke?  

Answer:  “We would like to, but we cannot go to him.  He can come to us, if only he knew how much he would benefit.”


What is the size of Luxembourg intelligence?  

Marco told him their size and annual budget and then looked at JL.  

“He wants a submarine,” Marco joked.  

The Prince looked at de Massy, aghast.  

“A nuclear one,” I added.

Marco asked the Prince to confirm if he wanted his service to train JL in the fundamentals of intelligence work.   

The Prince confirmed this.

Then Marco broached his perception of the terrorist threat:  

Terrorists look for high impact to change the way we in the West live our lives.  A hit on Monaco would be impactful even if Monaco itself were not an enemy.  

The Prince and I had no time to meet privately; he suggested we meet that evening.   

At six o’clock he phoned and summoned me to the Palace.  

I arrived at the private entrance at 7:15, was handed a scotch on the rocks and spent a few minutes admiring the Oscar Princess Grace won for Best Actress in Country Girl

The Prince appeared thirty minutes later.

The first item on my agenda was Narmino/Muhlberger:  

“I don’t want to complain about anyone or get into a pissing match,” I began.  “Just the facts.  The man who said he would travel anywhere in the world to resolve his Number One Priority cancelled traveling to Sarajevo on the very date we tailored for him.  Furthermore, he now says he will not trace a fax number we gave him.”

The Prince said, “Then why did he ask for it?”

“Precisely.”

The Prince suddenly had an original thought:  

“Maybe the DST is trying to make me look bad.”

I conveyed that Gocha Arivadze had told a group of high-powered Russians at Villa Mangiacane that he represented the Prince; that the Prince provided him a Rolls Royce to get to the meeting.  

Of course, the Prince was astonished.  He had not provided Arivadze with any car and did not know about any such meeting.  

I told him that we’d traced the plates to his friend Francesco Bongiovanni.    

He expressed surprise that Francesco could afford such a car.  He probably could not—it was Arivadze’s car, as Francesco later confirmed to an asset of ours.

The Prince told me he’d met with Franck Nicolas and fellow Freemasons regarding their desire to create a lodge in Monaco and had agreed to allow Monegasques to create a lodge in Monaco as long as French Freemasons were not members of it.  

“But I made it clear,” the Prince added, “I want nothing to do with it myself.”

It made no sense.  

But so much of what the Prince said—and did—made no sense anymore.

Before we adjourned, the Prince asked me about JL. “Do you really think he’s right for this [intelligence work in your service]?”  

His concern, he added, was that by allowing him this role he might be criticized for nepotism—a rather odd concern given that Monaco is an absolute monarchy ruled by a Royal Family.  

Perhaps the Prince still did not appreciate the power at his disposal.

I reiterated my belief that JL was enthusiastic, motivated, with an aptitude for this work.  He had the right personal chemistry and a wicked sense of humor.  

It was important, I stressed, that a member of the royal family eventually direct the intelligence service of Monaco, with loyalty to the Prince first and foremost.  

“This person will know all the secrets,” I said, in case he had not understood my point.

Finally, the question everyone in Monaco was asking:  would Monaco conform to France’s new no smoking in public places law?  

The Prince did not smoke and he constantly claimed concern about the environment, having created a foundation in his name actively to promote this interest.  But, as usual, he could not bring himself to make a decision.  He told me that Proust was “slowing things down,” because the minister of state himself chain-smoked throughout meals in restaurants.  

But the truth lay elsewhere, stemming from a recent incident at the Palace.  

The Prince had decreed the Palace a “no smoking zone.”  

Soon after, Princess Caroline and her husband Prince Ernst, both avid chain-smokers, arrived at a Palace reception and immediately sought to find an ashtray.  

They asked a servant, who responded by saying all ashtrays had been removed in accordance with the Prince’s new no-smoking policy.  

Caroline apparently stormed over and confronted her brother to demand an explanation.  

It was said Albert stuttered, as often he does when nervous; that he apologized, adding, yes, this indeed was the new policy.  


Caroline stormed back to her husband and they exchanged a few words before lighting up and thereafter flicking their cigarette ashes on the floor.  

It was a test of the Prince’s authority inside his own Palace.    

 I had two officers from the Security Service of Ukraine awaiting me at Le Beefbar, so the Prince excused me.  


Oleg S had specialized in money laundering and organized crime for 15 years and was now that division’s chief.  “I’m delighted you are still alive,” I said.  

“The Prince knows you are here and sends his greetings.”  

A new liaison partnership was born.

We had two Ukrainian nationals of interest to us, on whom I requested traces:  

Dmitri Seluk and Rinat Ahkmetov. 

The two intelligence officers exchanged glances.  

Both men, they said, were very corrupt, “very bad.”   

One, added Oleg, had “blood on his hands.”  

 

One week later, the Prince had a two-hour breakfast meeting with JL.

Thierry Lacoste was still trying to convince Albert to terminate the Monaco Intelligence Service, portraying JL as an “amateur” and a “dilettante.”  

So the Prince was eager for JL to train with Luxembourg and the CIA, which also offered a customized training course.  

And because the Prince had decided not to proceed with the peace institute, a cover job was still needed for JL.  

He had not been paid—my budget increase had been reversed—and he was going into debt working full-time, awaiting a salaried cover job the Prince had promised and not delivered.