QUEEN'S COUSIN CAUGHT IN STING.
MEDIA STING ENSNARES PRINCE MICHAEL OF KENT
Prince Michael of Kent, the Queen's cousin and an honorary military patron, has been caught in a media sting offering to sell South Korean gold traders his royal access to the Russian Kremlin.
Prince Michael, 78, who is also a member of the Russian aristocracy and is related to the last Tsar, Nicholas II, told undercover reporters posing as South Korean investment executives he was “very excited” to work with them, including making a speech from his Kensington Palace home in exchange for US$200,000, and making introductions on a future trip to Russia in exchange for $50,000. The idea was to help the company emphasize the links between gold and monarchy.
There is no criminality alleged, but relations between Britain and Russia are at a low, with new sanctions announced by Britain in March. Russia is regarded by Britain as a prime national security threat, led by a dictator who assassinates political rivals and bears ultimate responsibility for brazen murders and assassination attempts on British soil, including with radioactive poison and nerve agents.
The exposure of a “royals-for-hire” scandal, let alone one that leads to Russian President Vladimir Putin, contributes to a terrible year for the Queen, who recently lost her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and for the House of Windsor more generally, which is riven by betrayal and resentment even more than usual.
The Queen is close to Prince Michael, who was a page boy at her wedding. He often appears on the Buckingham Palace balcony for ceremonial events. He has no official paid role but does receive official protection and occasional accommodation when travelling. He is honorary senior colonel of the King's Royal Hussars, which was deployed to Estonia in 2019 in response to Russian aggression, and also Colonel-in-chief of the Essex and Kent Scottish Regiment based in Windsor, Ont.
His wife is Princess Michael of Kent, a Catholic aristocrat for whom he abandoned a spot in the line of succession to the British crown, which was reinstated by legislative change in 2013. She is an author of novels and non-fiction about royalty. She likewise takes no public salary as a member of the Royal Family. She was an early figure in the recent royal scandals over racism, wearing a blackamoor brooch, a stylized image of an African man, to a Christmas party to meet Meghan Markle, for which she later apologized.
The recorded Zoom call conversation at the heart of the sting was brokered by Prince Michael's lifelong friend and business associate, the Marquess of Reading, Simon Isaacs, a former banker.
The two executives of the House of Haedong gold trading firm from South Korea who approached Lord Reading before the Zoom call in March were, in fact, undercover reporters, and the company nothing more than a fake website.
“I have never had any close connection before with gold and the idea makes me very happy,” said Prince Michael on the call, according to the Sunday Times.
Prince Michael's private secretary also wrote to the reporters to say “Even if he doesn't have direct contact to the person that you want, there is a way in. There is always a way in.”
Prince Michael in 2009 was awarded the Order of Friendship from the Kremlin for improving Russia's relations with Britain, and has a private consultancy that has done business there.
After Prince Michael left the call, the recorded conversation continued without him. Lord Reading claimed Prince Michael was “Her Majesty's unofficial ambassador to Russia,” with “confidential” access to the Kremlin and Putin in particular. He urged the fake South Koreans to act with discretion “because we wouldn't want the world to know that he is seeing Putin purely for business reasons, if you follow me.”
Approached later by the Sunday Times, the Marquess of Reading issued a statement claiming to have “over-promised.”
The prince also released a statement in response to the allegations published this weekend. He denied any special relationship with Putin and said he has not been in contact since 2003, the year of Putin's last state visit to the U.K., although Putin has attended summit meetings and the 2012 London Olympics.
Prince Michael's statement said the Marquess of Reading is “a good friend, who made suggestions which Prince Michael would not have wanted, or been able, to fulfil.”
The political reaction was harsh. Within hours of the report in the Sunday Times, John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said their report “calls into question Prince Michael's position as senior colonel of the King's Royal Hussars, when those serving in the regiment only recently finished a deployment to deter Russian forces on NATO's eastern borders.”
A Conservative member of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Bob Seely, said: “No one, regardless of their rank, should be selling private, privileged access to the Russian leadership for foreign businesses trying to curry favours from the Kremlin.”
Stings have gone out of fashion in British journalism since the scandal over phone hacking that led to a public inquiry a decade ago, and saw the News of the World newspaper shut down in disgrace. But the play against Prince Michael shows the tradition remains in place.
This was a joint effort of the Sunday Times and the Channel Four program Dispatches. It was a familiar gambit, strategically similar to getting someone into a bugged hotel room under false pretences, only this time by Zoom.
Its targets were broader than simply Prince Michael. The Sunday Times reports three other members of the royal family refused the offer of work with House of Haedong, and another did not reply. The investigation was sparked by a tip.
There are historical precedents. In 2010, for example, Sarah Ferguson, 61, the former wife of the Queen's second son, Prince Andrew, was secretly filmed by an undercover journalist appearing to offer access to Andrew, then a government trade envoy, in exchange for money. The journalist, Mazher Mahmood, known as the Fake Sheikh, is a tabloid reporter who later went to jail for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.
THERE IS A WAY IN. THERE IS ALWAYS A WAY IN.