December 7, 1998. (Front page feature story)
Stamp scandal may involve Prince Rainier of MonacoBy Glen Stephens
A scandal in France may connect Prince Rainier of Monaco with a fortune in dubious stamp issues, according to reports in European newspapers.
The tiny principality of Monaco, area only 481 acres and population
27,000, has long been a favorite with stamp collectors worldwide.
The British newspaper The Express reported in a feature article Nov. 14 that French police were investigating what the newspaper called a "royal stamp swindle" worth an estimated £45 million (approximately $75 million).
The stamps involved are said to be the imperforate and nondenominated modern issues of Monaco that are widely sold to collectors as so-called printers proofs or similar deluxe proofs.
Some 1,221 residents in southern France alone were sold these stamps at up to approximately $165 a set.
The Express article, which was bylined from Jack Chee in Paris, contended that Sako Khatchikian, a French businessman living in Switzerland, may have reaped a fortune from the sale of such special stamp issues.
Selling stamps at a profit is of course an honorable profession, but the stamps involved in these circumstances supposedly are ones normally only issued to Monaco's Royal family to hand out as gifts to guests and dignitaries and to commemorate special events.
However, instead of receiving only a small number of these imperforate items, the Monaco government reportedly asked for tens of thousands of sets of each issue.
The reports also claim that the publishers of specialist catalogs of French-area material were induced to promote and list these imperforate proofs as collectible items.
French police investigating the matter found two check payments from Khatchikian totalling more than $276,000 said to be made out to "His Most Serene Highness, Prince of Monaco," the official title of Prince Rainier.
There is no suggestion in The Express article that the prince was aware of what was going on behind the scenes with these proofs.
French police issued a summons Nov. 13 to the 74-year-old Prince
Rainier following the discovery of these large-denominated checks,
according to the newspaper report.
However, a spokeswoman for the press center of the Principality of Monaco told Linn's that while a general investigation is going on, the prince has not been specifically connected with it.
The Express quoted a member of Monaco's public prosecutor's office as saying: "Our police will certainly pass on the French summons to the prince. But there is not an earthly chance that he will respond."
The French police claim that Khatchikian may have collected more than $1 million for his role in enlisting the supposed cooperation of Prince Rainier.
Khatchikian told the French police that he worked with Gerard Lheritier, a French Riviera stamp dealer, to carry out the plan.
Lheritier is stated to have made £45 million ($75 million) from the sale of these imperforate Monaco issues. How this figure is arrived at is not stated, nor is the number of sets of proof stamps sold, nor the period of time or number of sets they covered.
According to the Express article, a Monaco palace spokesman said, "You can be certain that the prince is not involved in any sort of fraud."
The article also noted that the prince recently has been under fire for allowing dubious financiers to set up banks in Monte Carlo and for failing to prevent Mafia bosses and drug dealers from stashing their ill-gotten gains in secret accounts in the Monaco tax haven.
Monaco has been issuing stamps since 1885, but its stamps entered the albums of most American collectors in 1956. The Royal Wedding issue of that year featuring the dashing prince and American film actress and stage darling Grace Kelly mesmerized the world.
The 1-franc value of that set (Scott 366) was seemingly produced in the tens of millions and was used as a premium or bonus item by approvals companies for years. It was so widely available that to this day, 42 years later, it still rates only the lowest price quoted (15¢) for any single item in the Scott stamp catalogs.
Both Prince Rainier and Princess Grace have appeared on many other stamps from Monaco. For example, the United States and Monaco both showed the princess on a 1993 joint issue (U.S. 2749, Monaco 1851).
The 20-franc Prince Rainier stamp illustrated nearby was released March 11, 1996 (1996). The stamp bears an inscription honoring Monaco's stamp and currency museum.
The proof of the 1981 5-franc Princess Charlotte stamp (1303) shown nearby is from the prince's collection, which is housed in the museum. This proof is signed by the engraver, Czeslaw Slania.
A proof is a trial impression from a die or printing plate made before actual stamp production. Proofs are made to examine a die or plate for defects and to compare the results of different inks.
The illustrated Princess Charlotte proof probably was used in the production of that stamp, as opposed to the many so-called deluxe proofs that were sold to collectors.
Glen Stephens is a dealer and philatelic journalist based in Sydney, Australia.
All content Copyright 2000 Linn's Stamp News, of Sidney, Ohio, USA and by the author Glen Stephens.
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