Monaco, the playground of millionaires and celebrities, is reeling from a sensational legal battle that has ensnared Prince Albert and his inner circle in a storm of sleaze allegations.
The 65-year-old prince, who took the reins of the principality following his father Prince Rainier III’s death in 2005, in June dismissed his trusted financial adviser, Claude Palmero, and chief-of-staff Laurent Anselmi.
Albert’s sudden purge came amid an anonymous website’s explosive claims of widespread corruption in the super-rich Mediterranean country.
The website, known as ‘Les Dossiers du Rocher’, emerged in late 2021 and targeted not only Palmero and Anselmi, but other prominent figures close to the prince including lawyer Thierry Lacoste and president of the principality’s supreme court Didier Linotte.
These men, known as the G4, were accused of orchestrating corruption involving multimillion-euro property deals, claims which all four vehemently deny.
Albert initially stood by his close confidants, but in recent weeks began distancing himself from them.
Then in June, Albert sacked Palmero and Anselmi, and again publicly played down associations with Lacoste and Linotte.
Prince’s Albert II of Monaco (C), Princess Charlene of Monaco (L) and Camille Gottlieb (R) pose as they arrive to attend the 74th annual Monaco Red Cross ball on July 29, 2023 in Monaco
Monaco is a flourishing tax haven which has an average wealth of £2million per head – the highest on the planet (Monte Carlo harbour pictured)
With just 38,000 residents and the highest percentage of millionaires globally, Monaco has long been known for its stability and discretion.
A slew of business magnates, sports stars and other uber-wealthy figures have flocked to set up shop in the principality, a flourishing tax haven which has an average wealth of £2million per head – the highest on the planet.
But the corruption allegations made by ‘Les Dossiers’, and Albert’s subsequent scramble to separate from his longtime allies, have thrown the principality into turmoil.
The claims triggered a torrent of civil lawsuits, as well as a criminal inquiry which has seen the principality’s police force conduct raids on Palmero’s homes and offices.
Speaking to French media, Prince Albert said: ‘When questions arise, you need to know how to change the people who surround you to find the right path again and to write a new page in your history… If confidence evaporates, you can no longer work together.’
But now, French publication Le Monde suggests that Albert’s hasty dismissal of his aides, in particular financial adviser Palmero, may only exacerbate the situation and prompt the disgruntled ex-aides to launch legal action of their own against the prince.
Palmero, who has been Monaco’s royal asset manager since Albert came to power in 2005, is described as the ‘holder of all the secrets of the principality,’ from the prince’s private accounts to government investments.
During raids conducted on July 19, investigators seized a treasure trove of files and mobile phones from Palmero’s offices – the contents of which could lay bare all manner of secrets involving the prince.
Albert (R) attempts to project an image of stability and discretion in Monaco, he has been embroiled in controversy from the get-go, particularly with regard to his love life and seemingly troubled marriage to Princess Charlene of Monaco (L)
A general view of Monte Carlo harbour in Monaco.
Le Monde described Palmero as ‘the man who is making the palace quiver’ given his insider knowledge and access to the prince’s dealings.
Though Albert attempts to project an image of stability and discretion in Monaco, he has been embroiled in controversy from the get-go, particularly with regard to his love life and seemingly troubled marriage to Princess Charlene of Monaco.
In 1987, just five years after his mother Grace’s death, Albert was dragged into his first of many scandals when former Playboy Playmate Bea Fiedler sensationally claimed she’d had a son with the prince following a one-night stand in Munich.
Albert refused to acknowledge the child, even taking a paternity test which proved inconclusive. But the reputational damage had been done.
Nearly two decades later, in his 2005 accession speech, the prince promised to ‘clean up’ Monaco’s dubious financial reputation and be guided by ‘morality, honesty and ethics’.
Less than a month later, however, those brave words sounded all too hollow when Paris Match magazine published a jaw-dropping 10-page exposé detailing another alleged love child, conceived with a former flight attendant from Africa.
Alexandre, born in 2002, was the fruit of an affair with glamorous Nicole Coste from Togo, whose phone number Albert had requested after she served him on a 90-minute Air France flight from Nice to Paris.
This time, legal documents showed Albert had already privately acknowledged Alexandre.
Prince Albert, now 65 and the only son of Prince Rainier III and Princess Grace, took over the principality on his father’s death in 2005. By then, however, he’d long had a reputation as something of a playboy. (Pictured: Albert and Naomi Campbell party together in 2002).
Despite a shy and awkward demeanor, he was often seen in his youth with models at glamorous events and was even romantically linked to both Claudia Schiffer and Naomi Campbell. (Pictured: Albert with future wife Charlene, left, and Naomi Campbell).
In 2005, Paris Match magazine published a jaw-dropping 10-page exposé detailing an alleged love child, conceived with former flight attendant Nicole Coste from Togo. Alexandre was born in 2002. (Pictured: Albert with Coste and son Alexandre).
The following year, in 2006, a former waitress from California, Tamara Rotolo, took a DNA test to confirm her longstanding claim that her daughter Jazmin, then 14, also belonged to the prince. Their affair, she said, had occurred when she’d been holidaying in France in 1991.
It was incredibly embarrassing for Albert, who had previously denied he was the father, leading to the collapse of Ms Rotolo’s 1992 court claim for child support.
Dubbed the ‘reluctant prince’, Albert had once coldly announced he would only ‘get married when Rainier (his father) dies’.
And in 2011, he finally did so, wedding South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock at a lavish ceremony costing a reported $55 million and boasting such guests as designer Karl Lagerfeld, actor Roger Moore and singer Shirley Bassey.
Charlene, who told Tatler magazine that she felt a ‘profound sense of destiny’ and went ‘weak at the knees’ on first meeting the prince, wore couture Chanel and Armani.
However, it soon emerged that the ‘reluctant prince’ appeared to have won himself an even more reluctant princess.
Footage showed her in tears throughout their wedding ceremony although she later insisted it was just the usual emotions of an overcome bride.
According to French news reports, Charlene had tried to flee back to South Africa at least three times in the weeks leading up to their nuptials, possibly after hearing that he had yet another love child.
In one breakout attempt, she was said to have gone so far as to ask for shelter in the South African embassy in Paris.
On another occasion, she was reportedly stopped by Monaco security en route to Nice airport. She was said to have been coaxed back with the offer of a deal whereby she only needed to hang around long enough to give her husband an heir. Though the runaway claims have been officially denied.
She gave birth to twins Jacques and Gabriella in 2014 – but the rumors of marital strife quickly resurfaced.
Dubbed the ‘reluctant prince’, Albert had once coldly announced he would only ‘get married when Rainier (his father) dies’. (Pictured: Albert with Coste in 2002).
And in 2011, he finally did so, wedding South African Olympic swimmer Charlene Wittstock at a lavish ceremony (pictured) costing a reported $55 million and boasting such guests as designer Karl Lagerfeld, actor Roger Moore and singer Shirley Bassey.
However, it soon emerged that the ‘reluctant prince’ appeared to have won himself an even more reluctant princess. According to French news reports, Charlene had tried to flee back to South Africa at least three times in the weeks leading up to their nuptials.
In 2019, she admitted in a rare interview that it was ‘sometimes hard to smile’. She found parenting exhausting, she said.
Then, in late 2020, there was renewed scandal about Albert’s love life when reports in the British and German press revealed he was being sued by a Brazilian woman in her mid-30s who claimed she’d also had a daughter by him.
The woman, identified in court papers only as ‘Mariza S’ and living in Italy, claimed he’d chatted her up in a Rio de Janeiro nightclub in 2004.
He’d told her he was a Canadian diplomat, she said, and that they’d enjoyed a two-week affair jetting around Europe during which she became pregnant. Albert was already in a relationship with Charlene at the time.
Mariza claimed she only realised Albert’s true identity when she saw a photo of him in the Press. His lawyers dismissed her allegations as a ‘sham’.
Meanwhile, a former aide to the prince cast doubt on the claim Albert had pretended to be a diplomat, saying that the overweight and balding prince relied on impressing women by revealing his royal identity.
When Charlene was later spotted with a punky new half-shaven hairstyle, it was widely interpreted as a show of defiance at her husband’s alleged infidelity.
The impression that she’d had enough was reinforced with a vengeance a few months later when she travelled to South Africa in spring 2021 for charity and conservation work. No sooner had she arrived than she announced she’d contracted a serious sinus infection from a prior surgery, rendering her unable to fly back to Monaco.
As the months went by and Charlene spent their 10th wedding anniversary alone, Prince Albert was forced to publicly insist his wife ‘absolutely’ had a medical problem.
But sceptics smelt a rat and, in the August, Albert flew out to South Africa for a cringing show of unity, with the pair posting Instagram pictures together.
In late 2020, there was renewed scandal when reports revealed Albert was being sued by a Brazilian woman who claimed she’d also had a daughter by him. When Charlene was later spotted with a punky new hairstyle (pictured), it was widely interpreted as a show of defiance.
The impression that she’d had enough was reinforced when she travelled to South Africa in spring 2021. No sooner had she arrived than she announced she’d contracted a serous sinus infection, rendering her unable to fly back to Monaco.
In the August, Albert flew out to South Africa for a cringing show of unity, with the pair posting Instagram pictures together.
According to respected French gossip magazine Madame Figaro, however, few back home in Monaco were convinced.
It noted the ‘strained embrace’ and miserable look on the face of a woman rumoured to have been looking to buy a house in Johannesburg.
Rumours only intensified when, in November 2021 Princess Charlene finally returned home to much fanfare, only to then leave again within weeks and miss the National Day of Monaco celebrations.
Prince Albert told the Press she was being treated at a medical facility. He was photographed waving to crowds with their two young children, holding up sad-looking handwritten banners telling their mother they missed and loved her.
By May last year, Charlene was back with her family, telling a local newspaper her health was ‘still fragile and I don’t want to go too fast… the path has been long, difficult and very painful’.
As of now, the 45-year-old princess is still Monaco with her family, but there were new clouds on the horizon this year when in March a French magazine reported the couple were in the process of separating.
The claims were officially dismissed as ‘malicious rumours’ – but only time will tell.