Friday 13 January 2017 (18h44) :
The Rotten Apple in The Prince’s Crown

By : RegisFranck

Monaco is facing difficult times, and its failing judicial system is largely responsible for the tiny European city-state’s current difficulties.

Monaco, despite its tiny size, has always been able to rely heavily on rich foreigners’ money to survive, whether through direct investment, the use of its financial services or its famous casinos. For the past few years though, the once stunning economic success of the tiny country has not been as high as expected, and the local government have been desperate to attract new foreign investment and compensate the departure of some of its foreign residents. Nevertheless, Monaco continues to attract notorious fortunes. They don’t seem too worried by the recent agreements signed by the Principality to better control its financial sector, or by Prince Albert, the reigning monarch, having declared a ‘war on corruption’. The country is indeed being politely but firmly pressured by other European countries to comply with the latest international anti-corruption and financial transparency measures.

It is in this context that the Council of Europe sent a delegation of its anti-corruption group, GRECO (Group of States against corruption), to Monaco in late November to interview elected representatives and civil servants over cases of alleged unethical behaviour within Monaco’s judicial system. For this type of visit of occur, however discreet it was (it was only revealed in the French press at the very end of December 2016) the situation must have been somewhat out of control. Unfortunately for Monaco, this is one slip forward into trouble, and the murky waters into which the highest ranking members of its judicial system seem to have waded will not help Monaco’s international reputation. A failing justice system rarely does.

Allegations of inappropriate behaviour had been cast for a long time against Mr Philippe Narmino, none other than the Head of Monaco’s judicial system, by scathing articles in the press – all unfortunately very grounded in reality. Amongst a number of accusations, he was considered to have bent the law in favour of some of his male lovers (Mr Narmino is married to a woman). Other Monegasque magistrates had a very personal take on ethics: one for instance bought a villa for a suspiciously low price in Italy from an alleged mobster under investigation for the Mediaset scandal (he defended himself by saying he knew nothing of the seller’s judicial past, which is thin ice to walk on for a magistrate). This man, Mr Jean-Pierre Dreno, has since been transferred from Monaco to a position in France.

Another was Mr Didier Linotte, who even though he had been named a magistrate, kept on administrating a string of companies – even starting a legal consultancy in Paris six months ago! Mr Linotte quite openly admitted the fact that his activities in the private sector ‘derived’ from his functions as a public servant… only he was, and still is, the President of Monaco’s Supreme Court. Interesting twin-track logic here. Not to mention the complete and unabashed confusion between a public job and one as a consultant!

For years, financial opacity has been a bone of contention between Monaco and its European neighbours; all the more so since the small country has been intent on meeting the Council of Europe’s criteria, a logic deemed vital to its political and diplomatic survival. Now a new unfortunate chapter is opening because of the mores of the country’s justice system’s high-ranking officials. Their repeated unethical behaviours have added a black spot of disrepute and disgrace to the already mediocre reputation of the Principality. And whether Monaco is brave enough to take action and cleanse its judicial system by itself, or whether its European neighbours force it to go in kicking and screaming isn’t relevant anymore: it has to be done.

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