CHAPTER XX

 

The majority of people who have never been in Monte Carlo invariably think of it as the abode of every kind of misdemeanour, such as robbery and violence, fraud or forgery, or any other delinquency that has money for its driving power.

But before I go any further I would like to explain one or two things with regard to Monte Carlo which I find are unknown to ninety percent of foreign visitors, and even residents who come out to this land of gaiety and of sunshine. The principality of Monaco, of which Monte Carlo forms an important part, is not France, as so many people seem to think. It is an independent territory which has its own sovereign Prince--an autocratic ruler of the House of Grimaldi, the oldest reigning family in Europe, whose power is as absolute as was that of the Bourbon Kings or the Tsars of Russia--it has its own constitution, its own laws and courts of justice. Its people are neither French nor Italian. They are Monégasques and speak a language of their own which is a mixture of Italian, French, and Spanish. The customs are leased to France but not the post, and French stamps are not valid in the Principality nor are the Monégasques ones in France.

The only thing Monaco has in common with France is the money, and certain laws and usages with regard to banking business which France has virtually imposed upon it. The Principality is under the protection of France, but is not her vassal. It has no obligations towards her in the way of foreign policy or of military duty. In the case of war Monaco proclaims its neutrality and maintains it, and if Monégasques desire to fight on the side of France or Italy, all they can do is to join the French Foreign Legion.

There are several other points of interest in connection with the internal affairs of the Principality, not all of them relevant to my present subject. One is that the chief officials in the Government are, with very rare exceptions, French, and so is the Commandant of the tiny Monégasque army. But the French Courts have no jurisdiction over crimes committed in Monaco and, in connection with that, it is interesting to note that there is no capital punishment in the Principality.

At a point quite close to my own home the territory is at its narrowest, less than three-quarters of a mile wide--at its widest it is about a mile and a half--and its whole length is only eight miles. France encircles it. It will at once 'jump to the eyes' of students of criminology how easy it is for a malefactor to skip across the frontier from Monaco to France or vice versa, according as the laws of either country react in his favour or not, because the police of one country have no power of arrest in the other.

There was a very curious case not so long ago when an English solicitor was charged with fraud and out on bail made his escape into France. The machinery of extradition was at once set in motion at home. France was willing to give up the criminal and set her police to work to find him. He was known to have gone South. As a matter of fact he was in Nice, got wind that the French police was after him, and came to Monte Carlo. For a time he was safe enough here. The French police had no power to arrest him inside the Principality, and Monaco had not entered into a treaty of extradition with any country except France. She would not harbour a fugitive from French justice, but in this case the criminal was English and his offence had been committed in England. And in any case, the Sovereign Prince, whose final word is the law of the land, was away shooting and no decision could be got from him as to what was to be done with the foreign solicitor.

But although Monaco ignores all extradition treaties, her police have the right to turn any person out of the Principality at a moment's notice without trial or appeal. The Sovereign Prince also retains and often exercises this right of expulsion. Over here we often say that if His Serene Highness does not like the look of your boots he can turn you out from his tiny dominion at a few hours' notice. Under pressure from France, the Monégasque police therefore decided to turn the gentleman out of the territory bag and baggage. For obvious reasons he had never applied for a permis de séjour which, in the Principality, takes the place of cartes d'identité required in France. This neglect made his crime doubly heinous in Monégasque eyes because it was looked upon as a defiance of the laws of the land.

And so the farce began. The French police were after the delinquent on one side of the frontier, and the Monégasque on the other. And there are one or two houses on the actual frontier here and there, one half of which--a garden, perhaps, or a separate wing--is in French territory and the other in the Principality.

The English solicitor was astute enough to take up his abode in one of these houses and, as there is a decided rivalry between the police of the two countries, they never work together in harmony, with the result that in this case they did not come to any understanding either as to their joint action. At times the Monégasque authorities would make a descent on the Monaco side of the Englishman's apartment, when he would at once skip over into the French side. When he heard rumours that the French police were coming to arrest him, back he would skip into the Principality. It seems unbelievable, but this farce lasted a whole fortnight before the man was finally cornered and sent back to England to serve a sentence of several years' penal servitude.

As in France, Monégasque justice is very lenient to what is called crime passionnel. A young governess at the High School in Monaco thought that her lover, also a teacher, was being unfaithful to her. She waylaid him one evening as he came out of the school building and deliberately shot him in the back. There was no question about it. It was premeditated murder. She was acquitted, the jury expressing sympathy with the poor girl driven out of her mind by jealousy. A number of cases of the same sort occur at least twenty or thirty times in the course of a year, and always with the same result: sympathy for the criminal (man or woman) mad with jealousy or unrequited love.

One curious case occurred here a few years ago. A man whom I will call Briano (it isn't his name), an Italian proprietor of a second-rate hotel in Monte Carlo, married, and father of two children, suspected his wife of infidelity. To one of his race and temperament the death of the delinquent was the only means of allying his jealousy. So one night he cut her throat and, as the children who slept in the same room as their mother, started screaming, he cut their throats also. Alarmed by the screams, the night porter came rushing into the room, arriving just in time to pick up the little girl aged nine who was bleeding from a wound in the neck and carry her away out of the reach of the raging madman.

In spite of Briano's sworn assertion that his wife and the children had been murdered by the woman's lover, whom he, Briano, had traced to his wife's bedroom and there discovered in flagrante delicto, the testimony of the night porter and the little girl weighed heavily against him. He would undoubtedly have been acquitted on the usual grounds of crime passionel but for the fact that he had killed one of his children and meant to kill the other. This revolted the jury, who found him guilty. As there is no capital punishment in Monaco, the murderer was handed over to the French authorities for deportation to Devil's Island, the Principality having no penal settlement of its own.

Briano, then, was duly deported. After a couple of years he contrived to escape and made his way to Trinidad. Here the English authorities refused to give him back to the French, he having established his Italian nationality as well as Monégasque residence. They simply sent him back, under police escort, to Monaco, the scene of his crime and of his trial for murder. And here another curious point comes in.

The Sovereign Prince, for reasons which none of us here could ever fathom, granted Briano a free pardon. He had a perfect right in law to do that if he chose, for his word is law in the Principality, and against it there is no appeal. Briano, I believe went to live in Italy.

NOTE

As I write this chapter in the year 1944, I am still in the dark as to what fate the final ending of this terrible war has in reserve for the Principality of Monaco and its jealously guarded neutrality and independence. Whatever that fate may be it will have to submit to it.

I am quite sure in my own mind that the great victorious powers, desiring nothing but 'peace upon earth and goodwill towards men' will respect the wishes of the population of this hitherto independent little abode of quietude and gaiety: 'the playground of Europe' where strangers from every land will of a certainty continue to come in search of health and respite from the troubles and sorrows brought upon them by the war.


©Blakeney Manor, 2001