In other countries, cash may be king, but down in Monaco, property is prince. The tiny principality, which crowds 38,000 people—most of them expats—into less than one square mile, has the highest-priced real estate in the world. It is a place of constant regeneration, where lucky builders and planners can net hundreds of millions from a single development, and the powerful local government—headed by the Prince of Monaco—can make or break fortunes with its awarding, or denial, of glittering contracts.
This is the backdrop against which the recent “Dossiers du Rocher” saga has played out—a multi-party shadow war that takes in Icelandic holding companies, Indian bot farms, warring billionaires, four members of the ruling prince’s inner sanctum, and a cryptic whistle-blower known only as “the Raven.”
The Dossiers are just the latest headache for Prince Albert II, the current ruler of the principality. Over the past decade or so, the bumbling monarch has spun from scandal to scandal, his reign a rolling omni-shambles that might cause even Britain’s Prince Andrew to wince. The scandals include a string of mistresses and accompanying paternity lawsuits; a miserable wife who is reportedly paid more than $12 million a year to fulfill her dead-eyed royal duties; and a close spiritual adviser who has been jailed for three years on child-pornography charges.
It is enough to awaken whispers of the famous “Curse of the Grimaldis,” supposedly placed on Prince Rainier I, the founding Grimaldi ruler of Monaco, in 1304 by a furious Flemish witch following the bloody Battle of Zierikzee. It is said to have doomed the rulers of Monaco to an eternity of bad luck and marital misery. The hex struck repeatedly throughout the 20th century, if waggish courtiers are to be believed, when Monaco’s first family was blighted by a succession of ugly divorces, unruly affairs, exploding speedboats, and the grisly car crash that killed Princess Grace Kelly, in 1982.
This latest installment of the curse is certainly the most perplexing—a sort of WikiLeaks in Vilebrequins, with no defined villain but plenty of sinister players. At its most innocuous it might be a heavy-handed attempt at revenge by a disgruntled real-estate developer on Monaco’s powerful planning courts. At its most tragic, it’s a vicious war on reputation that may have caused the death of a widely admired lawyer. Most of all, however, it is a salient reminder of the sheer oddness of this tiny, improbable, exorbitantly wealthy nation.
A rolling omni-shambles that might cause even Britain’s Prince Andrew to wince.
First, the facts: on September 23, 2021, a newly minted YouTube channel presented a series of videos by an unknown and unseen informant who went by the name of “the Raven.” The videos, which featured ominous music and lengthy accusatory captions, systematically attacked the so-called “Club of 4” who surrounded and advised the monarch: Didier Linotte, the president of the Monégasque Supreme Court; Claude Palmero, an accountant who oversaw Prince Albert’s considerable assets; Laurent Anselmi, the prince’s devoted chief of staff; and Thierry Lacoste, a lawyer and childhood friend of the prince.
The videos pointed watchers to a Web site called Les Dossiers du Rocher, or “Files of the Rock,” in reference to Monaco’s nickname (“Le Rocher”), which housed incriminating, and mostly verifiable, bank statements and e-mails belonging to the Club of 4. Other, similar Web sites also began to pop up, under generic names such as “Cable Chronicles,” accusing the members of Albert’s court of causing “the state to lose 150 million euros,” and overseeing a culture of “collusion, fraud and corruption.”
It was not immediately easy to identify an author or creator. The domain of the original Dossiers du Rocher was registered in Iceland, and its contact addresses were attributed to distant shell companies or dead people. “It was clear that someone had spent a lot of money so you couldn’t track where it was all coming from,” an informed Monaco resident told me. “Someone’s done a good job on it—a professional job.” What’s more, the site’s reader traffic—measured in the tens of thousands—seemed to originate almost exclusively in India.
Despite its dubious distribution, the content did not make for easy reading for the prince and his pals. The main impression was of a cozy cabal with unprecedented—and, to some, unpalatable—power in the principality. Not to mention the spoils to match.
The Dossiers reveal useful introductions and winking favors being doled out—the gentle nudging of the levers of power. In one instance, a fee of around $640,000 was paid to Lacoste for legal advice on a matter in which a developer won a $163 million court decision—a ruling which was decided by his old chum Didier Linotte at the Supreme Court.
Prince Albert himself told Le Monde that, in certain cases, he believed Lacoste “should have been a little more discreet” in his dealings but emphasized that legally neither Lacoste, nor any of his friends, had done anything wrong whatsoever. “I condemn this defamatory and anonymous campaign of false rumors and slander, which targets several servants of the Principality,” he told Monaco Matin at the time of the attacks, which he believed sought to destabilize the monarchy of Monaco itself. Despite the royal endorsement, the tremors rippling through Monaco’s elite were seismic.
On Tuesday, October 19, 2021, Jean-François Renucci, vice president of the Monaco Court of Revision—the highest level of the Monégasque judicial system—lost control of his car on a winding road outside Èze on the Côte d’Azur. The vehicle hurtled into a rock face and burst into flames on impact, killing Renucci—yet another victim of the notoriously dangerous roads that surround the principality.
Or perhaps not.
Just a month before, Renucci, who had previously advised the prince on his paternity lawsuits, had been tangentially caught up in the Dossiers du Rocher’s various accusations. He had been “unable to handle the pressure,” Palmero told Le Monde, of being named and shamed in the dubious leaks. “He was extremely sensitive.” Perhaps he suffered a dizzy spell from the stress of it all and crashed, one friend said. Perhaps he suffered worse, others seemed to hint. “He was the nicest boy on Earth,” an associate said. They “have a dead man on their hands.”
Who “they” are remains unanswered 18 months on from the initial leaks.
In October last year, two men—a Belgian businessman and a Monégasque lawyer—were arrested and charged with illegally hacking private information in relation to the Dossiers. Far from being the masterminds of the operation, however, sources soon whispered to the television channel France 3 that the pair were simply “useful fools” in a much larger game—one whose moves were being orchestrated by a bigger beast entirely.
“He was the nicest boy on Earth,” an associate said. They “have a dead man on their hands.”
Patrice Pastor has been described as the only man in Monaco more influential than its ruler. He is a canny, outspoken developer with statement glasses and leonine hair, who has long controlled Monaco’s property market and thus, in essence, most of Monaco itself.
Other influential developers include two Italian clans: the Carolis and the Marzoccos—the latter of whom moved from Italy in the late 1980s after Claudio Marzocco was kidnapped and held for ransom by the Calabrian mafia. But each pales in comparison to the Monégasque native and multi-billionaire Pastor—a man dubbed “P2” in reference to his initials, and to the shadowy right-wing Italian Masonic Lodge known as “Propaganda Due”—Silvio Berlusconi was also a member—to which he is said to be connected. In competitive bids for development, Pastor’s opponents claim he wants to win contracts “not for the money … but to crush everyone.” Those who are converted to his side are ominously said to have been “pastorized.”
“That octopus Pastor is everywhere!” wrote one of the prince’s advisers in an e-mail leaked to the Dossiers du Rocher. “He has gotten his hooks into Monaco. He has gone mad, he has no limits!” Indeed, Pastor’s relationship to the royal household has long been fractious. For decades, his father, Victor Pastor, was essentially the developer-in-chief for the entire principality. But in 2014, the contract for the gargantuan Esplanade des Pêcheurs development near the waterfront was awarded to the Caroli group, with Prince Albert’s tacit endorsement. Pastor immediately launched a legal challenge to the process, but it was this, allege his opponents, and the loss of several other lucrative contracts, that saw Pastor begin to mastermind the Dossiers du Rocher as an act of revenge.
“Pastor feels he has been disadvantaged in a lot of property deals in Monaco, even though he owns most of it,” a Monégasque insider told me. “What he particularly hates is the Gang of 4, this sort of shadow force in the palace who makes things go how they want them to go. And that’s what this dossier is about—trying to destroy these people’s reputations.”
Pastor has strongly denied any involvement in the Dossiers and claims he simply “irritates” the chummy royal household by challenging its power. “Everyone is aware of the crux of the matter,” he told Le Monde last year, pointing to the “small group that sets up business by taking advantage of the prince. And because I am the best in Monaco, I’m in the way.” Writing to Le Monde last year, Pastor attempted to rise above the mêlée with a quote from the artist Francis Picabia: “My ass contemplates those who talk behind my back.”
In March of this year, however, that insouciance may have become harder to pull off. In an effort to put an end to the long-running saga of the Esplanade des Pêcheurs development, Monaco’s Supreme Court—over which the prince holds supreme authority—ruled against Pastor’s claim that the bidding process had been uncompetitive. The loss of the case will no doubt fuel Pastor’s sense that a secretive cabal is moving against him.
In recent months the war appears to have cooled into something like a prolonged standoff. “The Prince wants everyone to be happy. He doesn’t want any drama, scandals, or anything like that,” the Monaco resident told me. “He’s a lovely guy, but he’s very weak—he doesn’t have much self-confidence and hates conflict.” In an uncharacteristic move, however, Prince Albert is said to have begun weeding out the “traitors” in his court who are close to Pastor, according to Le Monde.
The property baron, meanwhile, has launched two libel lawsuits against publications that implicated him in the leak. There appear to be no real winners here, and plenty of losers—not least the family of Jean-François Renucci. In a place like Monaco, curses can be contagious.
Joseph Bullmore is a Writer at Large at AIR MAIL and the editor of Gentleman’s Journal in London