Prince Albert of Monaco has been dragged into an explosive legal battle over sleaze allegations in his super-rich Mediterranean country after dismissing the adviser who was long his éminence grise.

Claude Palmero, 67, Albert’s asset manager, was ordered to leave his post after being targeted by a mysterious website set up anonymously to denounce what it claims is widespread corruption in the principality, which has a population of just 37,000 but the world’s highest percentage of millionaires. The case has given rise to a flurry of civil lawsuits — but also to a criminal inquiry into corruption accusations.

Somerset Maugham called Monaco “a sunny place for shady people.”

The fallout risks revealing state secrets in a country that has long attracted wealthy sports stars such as Novak Djokovic and industrialists such as Britain’s Sir Jim Ratcliffe through its tradition of stability and discretion, lawyers say.

However, Albert’s secrets are also at risk of disclosure, according to lawyers who hint at potential embarrassment for a ruler with a colorful love life and a marriage under constant scrutiny.

The prince also sacked Laurent Anselmi, 61, his chief of staff, and publicly distanced himself from Thierry Lacoste, 63, his lawyer and childhood friend, and Didier Linotte, 75, president of Monaco’s supreme court.

Monaco has a population of just 37,000 but the world’s highest percentage of millionaires.

Like Palmero, Anselmi, Lacoste and Linotte had been denounced by the website, called Les Dossiers du Rocher, as instigators of alleged corruption involving property deals running to tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of euros.

Prince Albert, once nicknamed the “playboy Prince” by tabloids, with his wife, Princess Charlene, and their children.

All four men deny wrongdoing and claim to be the victims of a plot orchestrated by an ill-intentioned property magnate. They say Les Dossiers du Rocher contains fake documents and false allegations. The G4, as Palmero, Anselmi, Lacoste and Linotte are nicknamed, initially won Albert’s backing. Last year, he denounced Les Dossiers du Rocher as a manipulation and said its aim was to undermine his principality.

However, in interviews in recent weeks, the prince has changed his view about his longtime advisers and friends. He told Le Figaro, the French daily newspaper, that he had lost confidence in them and “if confidence evaporates you can no longer work together”.

Albert added that he hoped to draw a line under the scandal, saying: “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.” Albert told Monaco-Matin, the local newspaper, that the allegations aired by Les Dossiers du Rocher and repeated by French media outlets had been “disastrous for Monaco’s image. We must absolutely put a stop to it.”

“If confidence evaporates you can no longer work together.”

However, Le Monde, the French daily, said that Albert’s hopes were likely to be dashed. It said that far from ending the scandal, the ousting of Palmero was likely to aggravate it. Sleaze claims are “now at the doors of the princely palace”, the newspaper added. “Claude Palmero has become the man who is making the palace tremble,” it said.

Palmero has been Monaco’s royal asset manager since 2005, when he was taken on by Albert’s father, Prince Rainier, the widower of Grace Kelly. Not only has he overseen real estate developments in a country where property prices are on average about five times higher than in Paris, he is also regularly described as Albert’s éminence grise.

Prince Albert with his family in 2022.

Le Monde said he was the “holder of all the secrets of the principality, from the prince’s private accounts to government investments”. The newspaper added that he was “the sort of person you spare in general”. After his homes and offices were raided by police following the opening of a criminal investigation into corruption allegations, Palmero seemed irritated. He said that Albert’s interview with Le Figaro included a “regrettable echo of a recurrent campaign of denigration … feeding off false documents, malicious accusations and fallacious insinuations. I cannot let myself be slandered in this way.”

Le Monde reported that he was preparing to sue the prince for libel. He has also claimed wrongful dismissal, describing his termination as “arbitrary, defamatory and unmotivated”.

Pierre-Olivier Sur, Palermo’s lawyer, said that the files taken from his client’s homes and office in the police raids had placed Albert at the heart of the case. “The raid targeting Claude Palermo is a raid on the prince,” he told Le Figaro. “It has broken all [Albert’s] secrets, personal and state.”

Albert has two children born during his liaisons with an American estate agent and a Togolese air hostess, and two more from his marriage to Princess Charlene, a Zimbabwean-born swimmer who represented South Africa at the Olympics. They spent months apart in 2021, officially because Charlene was recovering from an infection in South Africa, and have since denied rumors of a separation.

Adam Sage is the Paris correspondent for The Times of London. He has covered five presidential elections and countless scandals