Hard times in Monte Carlo

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FRANCE SHOULD consider turning off all the lights in the Principality of Monaco if the tiny country refuses to put its legal and financial house in order. This drastic threat to cut off the electricity - first used, with great success, by General de Gaulle 35 years ago - was re-activated yesterday by the august and influential newspaper Le Monde.

It was time for the French government to play tough with this "Disneyland for millionaires, providing a refuge for cheats", the newspaper said.

Monaco, consisting of one square mile, surrounded by France, imports all its electricity from its giant neighbour. De Gaulle's successful threat in 1963 to cut off the power was a "precedent worthy of study" by the present French government, Le Monde said.

Relations between Monaco and France, which partly administers the principality, have been severely strained for two years. The row centres on allegations of widespread money-laundering in the country's 50 independent banks (one bank for every 600 permanent residents). According to Le Monde, young and eager investigating judges in the principality (appointed by France) have complained of interference in their work. The interference comes, it is alleged, partly from the royal palace and partly from an older guard of magistrates and judges (also appointed by France).

The French government recently overruled Prince Rainier and refused to extend the mandate of the principality's chief prosecutor, a French official suspected of taking too lax a view of financial investigations.

Le Monde said that Monaco was passing laws of banking secrecy, denying the concept of embezzlement and accepting the proceeds of organised crime and tax fraud.

The Monaco authorities said they were doing everything in their power to discourage money-laundering and that their judicial system was the most independent in the world.