Thieves Shake Monaco’s Reputation as ‘Safe Haven’


By big city standards, Monaco’s crime rate is minuscule, but a string of thefts and break-ins has the principality’s high society in a state of high anxiety.

For Monaco has a cherished image as the millionaire’s safe haven, one of the few places in the world where a woman wearing the family jewels can walk the streets at night without fear.

Press reports say Monaco’s ruler, Prince Rainier, is angry at his police force, described by its own commissioner in happier days as “an elite force for an elite community.”

Rainier has reason to be concerned.


Last July thieves removed an 18th-Century painting belonging to the prince from the Salle Garnier opera house, which was brimming with high-technology security devices.

The painting has since been recovered and one person arrested in connection with the theft, but the incident has added to the worries of residents who boast that Monaco is the safest place in the world.

“The principality’s reputation is at stake,” palace spokeswoman Mireille Rebaudo said.

After a holdup in a jewelry shop in November--the third in 1989 after a previous average of barely one a year--Rainier asked French Interior Minister Pierre Joxe for a report on police operations. Under a 1962 treaty, the head of Monaco’s police is a high-ranking French civil servant.

Residents of Monaco, situated between Italy and France on the Mediterranean coast, were stunned recently by a night robbery near its famous casino, almost under the noses of police.

Three gangsters used clubs to smash the windows of a luxury boutique before relieving the owners of jewelry worth $600,000.

The gang escaped in a car, weaving through streets under permanent surveillance from infra-red cameras that can read vehicle license plates from a distance of 150 feet.

No one has been arrested.

Joxe flew to Monaco in early January to present the results of the French police inquiry to Rainier.

Nothing from the report has been made public, but press reports and residents have said Rainier, for whom security is a major priority, will take action.

The safety of residents and their property is an important economic factor for Monaco. Of the total population of 29,OOO--only 5,OOO of them citizens--many are wealthy foreigners who have chosen to live in the principality because of its crime-free reputation.

Every evening in front of the casino and luxury hotels, members of the jet-set arrive in their Rolls-Royces and expensive sports cars, under the watchful eyes of impeccably uniformed police.

Members of the force, who must be at least six feet tall, are carefully chosen for their ability to speak foreign languages and for their courtesy.

The principality boasts one policeman for every 8O inhabitants.

“When I took over from my grandfather 4O years ago, my first preoccupation was to reinforce the police,” Rainer said in an interview last March.