Inside Monaco: The ultimate playground for the rich

 March 17, 2019

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There’s a reason Monaco has often been described as “a sunny place for shady people.” For decades, crooks, courtesans, and con artists were drawn to this slip of land by the sea because of its wealthy residents, its famous casino and its willingness to ignore pesky banking regulations. It’s the smallest country in the world outside the Vatican, less than one square mile, and in America, it’s been associated with glamour ever since movie star Grace Kelly became Princess of Monaco in the 1950s. Today, it’s home to more multi-millionaires per square foot than any other country and while Grace Kelly’s son Prince Albert has been trying to push his nation into the 21st century, it unapologetically remains a place where you can parade your jewels, park your money, and not pay any income tax. There are certainly prettier parts of Europe, but it’s Monaco where the super-rich are clamoring to get in.

For many, Monaco is synonymous with the highlife. Maseratis and martinis, mega yachts and motorboats.

Steven Saltzman: That’s our fisher island. That would be where all the wealthiest people rent.

That’s Steven Saltzman, a longtime resident whose job, among other things, is to help wealthy foreigners move here. His father produced the early James Bond films, and Steven pitches the Principality with the hyperbole of a Hollywood producer.

Steven Saltzman: Monaco is utopia.

Anderson Cooper: Utopia?

Steven Saltzman: It’s a country with no sovereign debt– where 100 different nationalities live together, protected in peace by a planet-loving prince.

Anderson Cooper: Is utopia this wealthy, though?

Steven Saltzman: Well, I’m talking about utopia because it’s a perfect society.

A perfect society? The first thing you really notice about Monaco is how small it is, less than a square mile carved out of the coastline of France. A cramped alcove of aging apartments hugging a harbour barely big enough for the boats that dock here.

Anderson Cooper: There’s certainly more yachts in utopia than I imagined there would be.

Steven Saltzman: Well, this is– (LAUGHTER) yacht heaven. It’s the– Mecca of the yacht. You know, they always say that– there’re two times in yachting that are fun: the day you buy it and the day you sell it. (LAUGHTER)

With enough money you can buy just about anything in Monaco. There are more luxury shops than supermarkets. Fundraisers are the social events of the summer and whatever you have, you can flaunt it without fear.

Monaco isn’t a police state, but there are cops everywhere. They’re very polite, they salute when they see you, but make no mistake, they’re watching everything. Not just with cops on corners, but cameras, lots of them. Clocking pedestrians, and each car that comes into the country.

Anderson Cooper: They see everything?

Steven Saltzman: They see everything.

Steven Saltzman: And I’m happy about that because it– I know that I live in safety. I’m secure. And that the government of this country takes that very seriously.

Monaco also takes the good life very seriously. At times it feels as much like a country club, as a country. Membership will cost you, to become a resident, you have to prove you make a lot of money or have more than half a million dollars in the bank and you have to promise to live here six months of the year. There’s not much of a beach to speak of, and traffic can be a nightmare. So what’s the appeal? A big one is taxes. In Monaco, you pay no income tax, and rarely pay capital gains or inheritance tax, that is, unless you’re American. The IRS taxes you no matter where you live. Monaco may be known as a tax haven, but around here that’s kind of a touchy subject.

Steven Saltzman: No one here is cheating on their taxes. We pay our sales tax. We pay our property tax. We pay our tax in– on our employees. And we pay our tax on our corporate profits. They don’t need more taxes.

Anderson Cooper: But part of the appeal has got to be, “Wow, I can come here and I– I don’t have to pay income tax.”

Steven Saltzman: The fact that Monaco doesn’t need income tax may be part of the attraction. But it may be somebody who’d also like to have their boat, live in security and– and not worry about– their daughter going down to the supermarket and getting knifed.

It might sound like a dim view of the rest of the world, but serious crime is almost non-existent in Monaco, and that’s part of the attraction for tourists as well. Every day they flood the principality, hoping to get a glimpse of how the one percent live.

Yann-Antony Noghès: Monaco is a myth. And we live on it.

Anderson Cooper: People wanna believe in the myth? They want to come and see it–

Yann-Antony Noghès: That’s what people expect.

Yann Anthony Noghes grew up with that myth. His family has been here for more than 200 years, which makes him something of a rarity. He’s a citizen.

Citizens are known as Monegasques and it’s almost impossible for foreigners to become one, no matter how long they’ve been here. Out of the 38,000 people in Monaco, less than a quarter are citizens. Most Monegasques are not millionaires and they couldn’t afford to live in their own country without special privileges and a variety of subsidies.

Anderson Cooper: You see people driving around in Lamborghinis and Bentleys and parking them out in the street. Is there tension?

Yann-Antony Noghès: No. No. Because foreigners are our wealth.

Anderson Cooper: The foreigners are a source of wealth for the citizens?

Yann-Antony Noghès: Yeah.

Anderson Cooper: There– there’s not– huge industries here. There’s not farming here. That’s how the country makes money.

Yann-Antony Noghès: Exactly.

The country also makes money hosting prestigious international events. The biggest of all: the historic Grand Prix. It takes place each spring and attracts tens of thousands of visitors and top Formula One teams. Some of the drivers don’t have to commute very far, world champion Lewis Hamilton lives here, along with dozens of star athletes in a variety of top sports. For four days, 20 turbo-charged, multi-million dollar machines hurtle through Monaco’s winding, narrow streets. There’s nowhere in the principality you can escape the deafening roar.

Yann-Antony Noghès’s grandfather founded the now-legendary race 90 years ago.

Anderson Cooper: So for a local, what is race weekend like?

Yann-Antony Noghès: Well, it’s heaven and hell. (LAUGH)

Anderson Cooper: Heaven because–

Yann-Antony Noghès: Well, it’s heaven for guys like me who love it. And I’m having a real good time.

Yann-Antony Noghès: But it can be hell when you just live right in that building, and you don’t have a pass to go watch the race.

Anderson Cooper: Or you don’t like hearing music from yachts–

Yann-Antony Noghès: Exactly. Or loud people coming to party.

There are a lot of loud people wandering around race weekend. By day, they dance and party by the racetrack, at night the action moves to the yachts docked in the harbour, where the champagne flows and you can dance or do this all night.

It’s hard to imagine what Grace Kelly would make of it. She was Hollywood royalty in 1956 when she married Prince Rainier, whose family had ruled over the Principality for 700 years. It was called the wedding of the century and with it, in the minds of many Americans, a fairy-tale was born.

Hollywood stars came calling and high rollers from America flocked to gambling’s high temple, the ornate casino in the tiny neighborhood of Monte Carlo, so often immortalised in the movies.

That was the Monaco that Grace Kelly’s son, Prince Albert grew up in. The palace gardens were his playground.

Prince Albert: I remember different– parties and luncheons in the summer, where we’d have Frank Sinatra, Kirk Douglas.

Anderson Cooper: Oh, really?

Prince Albert: Gregory Peck come by.

Anderson Cooper: It’s nice to imagine Sinatra around here. (LAUGH) It’s cool.

The prince is famously shy, and surprisingly accessible. His title is a big one for such a small country. He’s referred to as His Serene Highness.

Anderson Cooper: You can really see everything from here.

Prince Albert: Yeah.

He’s no figurehead, he runs this place. He’s prince, mayor, CEO and in many ways, luxury landlord.

Take a look at his desk, there’s not a problem from international diplomacy to traffic troubles downtown that he doesn’t oversee. The buck starts and stop with him.

Anderson Cooper: Most people we talked to have referred to you at one time or another as the boss.

Prince Albert: My father w– was called the boss as well. It’s– I view it as an endearing term.

Anderson Cooper: Bosses usually do. (LAUGHTER)

Prince Albert: It’s not an– not an easy responsibility, no matter what the size of the country is.

When Prince Albert ascended the throne 14 years ago, Monaco had lost some of its lustre. The casino’s fortunes had faded and the principality had earned a dubious reputation for turning a blind eye to crooks and tax cheats.

Anderson Cooper: There was that, famous quote that “Monaco is a sunny place for shady people.” Was that fair?

Prince Albert: At a certain period in– in time, it– it was– a pretty accurate description. But that was– that was a long time ago–

Anderson Cooper: There were– there were a lotta shady people here in the past?

Prince Albert: Monaco is certainly not a place like that anymore.

Prince Albert has publicly pushed to get the country in line with nearly all international banking regulations, and he’s been dubbed “The Green Prince” for his focus on climate change and for mandating that all new construction needs to be environmentally sustainable.

“We have people spend 300,000 euro in one night.”

The problem is there isn’t much space left to build on. This $2 billion project is underway to add 15 acres for luxury apartments by expanding out into the sea. Monaco remains the most expensive real estate in the world and new developments like the Odeon tower are in high demand. Apartments are set aside here for the Monegasques at a deep discount, it’s perhaps the fanciest public housing in the world, though there is a separate entrance for the super-rich.

Anderson Cooper: So which entrance do we go into?

Pieter van Naeltwijck: That one.

Anderson Cooper: This is the main one?

Pieter van Naeltwijck: Yeah. After you.

Anderson Cooper: Okay.

Pieter van Naeltwijck is a real estate broker. He’s currently offering this 5-story penthouse in the Odeon. The price? $300 million.

Anderson Cooper: And this is onyx?

Pieter van Naeltwijck: Yeah, retro– onyx. Very difficult to cut because it’s– curved.

It’s a 38,000 square foot marble-clad mansion in the sky, with seven bedrooms, a movie theater, a gym, gold fixtures and what’s an outdoor pool without a waterslide?

Pieter van Naeltwijck: You have about four or five kitchens– each floor.

Anderson Cooper: Four or five kitchens?

Pieter van Naeltwijck: Well, I mean, you don’t want to walk to another floor to get–

Anderson Cooper: Breakfast, that– that would be–

Pieter van Naeltwijck: No, that would just– why’d you do that?

Anderson Cooper: Terribly inconvenient.

Pieter van Naeltwijck: No, (LAUGH) exactly.

Anderson Cooper: Wow.

Pieter van Naeltwijck: There you are.

The view is spectacular and the apartment? Perfect, if money and taste are no object.

Anderson Cooper: You– you see it as somebody who has a mega yacht– a $300 million yacht–

Anderson Cooper: –and wants to settle down somewhere?

Pieter van Naeltwijck: Yeah. Maybe the gentleman will change his wife and the wife will not like the sea and she says, “I want to (LAUGHTER) live in a nice building–“

Anderson Cooper: The gentleman will change his wife? There’s a lot of that that goes on.

Pieter van Naeltwijck: I know.

Monaco is certainly not for everyone, but then again, that’s the whole idea.

Flavio Briatore: Monaco is like a dream, you know?

Anderson Cooper: Like a dream?

Flavio Briatore: Like a dream. Everything’s perfect.

Flavio Briatore is an Italian businessman who moved here ten years ago. In Monaco, Albert’s the Prince, but Flavio is king of the night. Just don’t ask him to pick you up in his new Lamborghini before 11 p.m..

Flavio Briatore: We have people spend 300,000 euro in one night.

Anderson Cooper: 300,000 euros in your restaurant?

Flavio Briatore: Yeah, yeah. I’ll show you the video.

Anderson Cooper: On food and– and–

Flavio Briatore: Party.

Anderson Cooper: –champagne, and–

Flavio Briatore: Champagne.

Briatore owns this nightclub, Twiga, part of his global empire of clubs, clothing brands and restaurants humbly called Billionaire Life.

A place where the roaring 20s never seem to have ended. And the rich and those who want to be rich can meet and mingle and maybe find companionship for the night.

Anderson Cooper: Is that what Monaco is, a party?

Flavio Briatore: Yeah. You have two face of Monaco. You have the day, quiet; in the night people go around. People go to the disco, p– people go to the restaurant. All the restaurant is working very late.

Anderson Cooper: The party goes on.

Flavio Briatore: The party goes on. (LAUGH)

In this age of instability, uncertainty and inequality, it may seem strange this odd oasis of opulence still exists. But Monaco wants you to forget about all that. Have some champagne, enjoy the party, why worry? From here, the rest of the world is far, far away.

Originally published at CBS news. Produced by Anderson Cooper, anchor of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360”.

The episode can be watched on the CBS website here.


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