Prince Albert II of Monaco: ‘We have 139 nationalities living on two sq km’
Stroll through the streets of Monaco and the tiny principality of just two square kilometres appears to be bursting at the seams. The traffic — a constant gripe among locals — has come to a near standstill, with roads closed for the Grand Prix. There’s barely space to be seen among the apartment blocks that rise from the coast to the French border in the hills — yet the juddering from construction sites is an audible reminder of Monaco’s urgent need to update its mainly 1960s housing stock and build new homes for a growing population.
Prince Albert II of Monaco is standing in his palace gardens, contemplating a sweeping vista of the country he has ruled for 17 years since the death of his father, Prince Rainier III. As he prepares to host 20 or so global heads of state for the Formula 1 main event, he tells me about the challenges Monaco faces.
Famously described by Somerset Maugham as a “sunny place for shady people”, Monaco has a reputation for being a tax-light bolt-hole for absent billionaires and a playground for the bling-loving super-rich. Albert’s mission has always been to change perceptions, he says. “I’ve been trying to boost the attractiveness of Monaco since I took over from my father. I can’t face Monaco appearing on any black or grey list,” he says in his soft, American-accented voice, the legacy of his university years spent in Massachusetts.
Monaco was removed from the OECD’s “grey list” of uncooperative tax havens in 2009. And in 2016, Prince Albert signed a tax transparency agreement with the EU, agreeing to exchange information on the bank accounts of residents from 2018. “We put together a plan with the finance department. Any financial institution has to comply with those rules and regulations. It took a while, of course,” he says.
Monaco still flies under the radar in some areas; the country doesn’t, for example, appear in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index, whose findings are based on 13 independent global data sources. That “does not mean it’s corruption-free, only that there is not enough data available to accurately measure levels of corruption,” says Transparency International’s Shubham Kaushik.
However, since the start of the war in Ukraine — which Prince Albert publicly condemned in late February — some of Monaco’s Russian population has been in the spotlight. Of Monaco’s 749 Russian residents, the prince says that “only a handful” appear on the list of oligarchs facing sanctions, “and of course they were immediately dealt with,” he adds. “Those who had bank accounts here, they have been frozen.”
He mentions one Russian yacht owner who has left Monaco. He won’t specify names, but the one reported case is the retail billionaire Sergei Galitsky, whose name is not on the EU’s list of sanctioned individuals but whose $250mn superyacht Quantum Blue was temporarily seized in Monaco’s Port Hercule in March and later seen heading to the Suez Canal.
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