A Curious if somewhat unedifying chapter in royal history was written in 2001, when Prince Andrew was photographed on a yacht off Thailand surrounded by what red-top newspapers dubbed ‘a bevy of topless beauties’.
He was said to be visiting the island of Phuket on a Christmas trip organised by Johan Eliasch, a Monaco-based tycoon behind the top sports brand Head.
According to reports at the time, the billionaire had generously agreed to foot at least some of the bill for Andrew’s stay at the Amanpuri Hotel, an ultra-opulent establishment where villas cost up to £25,000 a night. The provenance of the yacht is unknown.
Johan Eliasch, a Monaco-based tycoon behind the top sports brand Head, with Prince Andrew at Wimbledon in 2016
During the stay, the playboy antics of ‘Air Miles Andy’ sparked a predictable media rumpus. In particular, pictures of the Queen’s portly second son being massaged with sun-cream by skinny young women led to speculation that — aged 40 and having just left the Navy — the father-of-two was suffering from a royal version of mid-life crisis.
His friends Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell were also reported to be in Phuket at the time. We all know how that relationship eventually worked out — with Epstein dying in a New York prison cell in August after being arrested on sex-trafficking charges, and Andrew forced to quit public life because of his friendship with the paedophile.
Yet unfavourable headlines generated by the Thai holiday did little to dent Andrew’s affection for the free-spending, Swedish-born Mr Eliasch. Quite the reverse.
Prince Andrew was photographed on a yacht off Thailand surrounded by what red-top newspapers dubbed ‘a bevy of topless beauties’ in 2001
Not only do they remain close friends, but I can reveal that the two men have secretly set up a company together.
The firm, Naples Gold Limited, was incorporated in November 2002, with both men joining as directors shortly afterwards. It has filed paperwork ever since, including a recent set of accounts (showing no trading activity) submitted to Companies House earlier this week.
In normal circumstances, the business affairs of a senior royal are widely reported. Yet Naples Gold has never once been the subject of scrutiny.
Indeed, until the Mail came across its existence this week, neither Prince Andrew nor Mr Eliasch had ever publicly spoken about it.
Furthermore, it seems that everyone involved in the creation of Naples Gold has, over the past 17 years, taken steps to keep its royal links secret.
Duchess of York with Prince Andrew and Johan Eliasch at Ascot Racecourse. In its coverage, the U.S. newspaper duly described Mr Eliasch as a ‘close friend’ of the Prince
For example, with reference to Prince Andrew, on official documents relating to his business affairs he is almost always described using his official title ‘HRH the Duke of York’. Yet when he signed up as a director of Naples Gold, he called himself ‘Andrew Inverness’.
The pseudonym — his real name is Andrew Mountbatten-Windsor — appears to be derived from one of his less well-known titles, the Earl of Inverness. It was adopted, according to a source with knowledge of Naples Gold’s formation, ‘in order to avoid media attention’ until the company was up and running.
As a result, the only way a casual observer of Naples Gold’s registration document might gather that ‘Andrew Inverness’ is, in fact, Prince Andrew, would be to realise that they both share the birth-date of February, 19, 1960, and have identical handwriting.
Intriguingly, this is not the first time Prince Andrew has used the name ‘Inverness’ while seeking to remain below the radar.
Earlier this month, the Mail on Sunday revealed that he has a 40 per cent stake in a company called Inverness Asset Management, registered in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands. It was set up by the Prince in conjunction with another wealthy benefactor called David ‘Spotty’ Rowland, apparently to run an offshore investment fund for their various super-rich contacts.
And in 2009, one ‘Andrew Inverness, care of Buckingham Palace’ was listed as a creditor of a luxury ski company called Descent International which had collapsed, owing around £27,000. A spokesman for the liquidator told reporters: ‘We understand that to be Prince Andrew.’
But back to his Naples Gold and Mr Eliasch.
The tycoon first met Andrew when he organised a charity tennis match between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe at Buckingham Palace in the Nineties. Mr Eliasch is a former Tory party deputy treasurer and donor who became involved in buying tracts of Amazon rainforest to protect it.
Later, his credentials as an environmentalist impressed Gordon Brown, who commissioned him to look at ways to protect the ‘lungs of the world’.
When Naples Gold was founded various other significant (and apparently misleading) steps were taken to keep Andrew’s involvement secret.
In the section of Companies House forms where directors must by law list their ‘usual residential address’, Andrew chose not to name his then-home, Sunninghill Park in Windsor.
Instead, he claimed, erroneously, that he inhabited a Grade II-listed Georgian mansion on South Audley Street in London’s Mayfair. The vast property was not where he lived. At the time, it was the offices of sports firm Head, and today it appears to be Mr Eliasch’s London address.
According to the Land Registry, it’s currently controlled via an offshore company called Vannin (IoM) Limited, which was also incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
Then, in the section of the Naples Gold registration document where Prince Andrew was asked to describe his ‘business occupation’, he chose not to state that he was a member of the Royal Family or declare his then official role as Britain’s trade envoy.
Instead, he said he was a professional ‘consultant’.
Ironically, this final statement was at least partly true. As the Mail has chronicled, Andrew has, for many years, acted as a paid commercial ‘fixer’ for wealthy acquaintances while travelling the world on official trade envoy business. A few years back, for example, leaked emails showed how he’d attempted to help a Greek sewerage company and a Swiss finance house bid for infrastructure projects in the corrupt Central Asian dictatorship of Kazakhstan, where he boasted friends in high places.
The deal eventually collapsed. But had it come off, he would have been paid a consultancy fee of almost £4 million.
Such work, in the often secretive world that Andrew’s royal status allows him to operate, helps partly to explain how he’s managed in recent years to become spectacularly rich.
Despite an official income limited to an allowance from the Queen — said to be around £250,000 annually — plus a small Navy pension thought to provide income of roughly £20,000, he leads a super-rich lifestyle.
He has a collection of expensive wristwatches — including several Rolexes and Cartiers, a £12,000 gold Apple Watch and a £150,000 Patek Philippe — and a small fleet of luxury cars, including a new green Bentley.
The Duke also appears to have managed in recent years to help clear £5 million worth of debts accumulated by his ex-wife, the Duchess of York.
In addition, his property portfolio encompasses Royal Lodge, his home in Windsor Great Park, which benefited from a £7.5 million refurbishment, and a £13 million pile in Switzerland.
Called Chalet Helora, the seven-bedroom luxury lodge in the exclusive ski resort of Verbier previously boasted six full-time staff and was rented out for more than £22,000 a week.
The property is decorated with chic antiques, the master bedroom is draped in animal furs, there is a 650sq ft indoor swimming pool, sauna, sun terrace, boot-room, bar and lavish entertaining area.
So where does Naples Gold fit into this odd mix? Well, here’s where things get confusing. Naples Gold’s company secretary was for many years Clare Vincent, the investor relations manager of Mr Eliasch’s sports company Head.
Its registered office has, over the ensuing 17 years, changed address five times, between a variety of Mayfair and Central London offices. At present, its registered HQ is the site of a mail handling service on Old Gloucester Street in London’s Bloomsbury.
The only directors, since soon after incorporation, have been Mr Eliasch and Prince Andrew, save for an odd interlude in 2016, when Mr Eliasch resigned and was replaced in the role by a company called Eddore Limited, which was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.
Eddore than switched its address to another tax haven — the Isle of Man — before resigning as a director of Naples Gold in December 2016, whereupon it was replaced by Mr Eliasch.
The reason for these manoeuvres is unclear. Naples Gold has consistently filed annual accounts and company returns signed by the serving directors.
However, it does not appear to have ever generated income or spent money, or pursued other visible activity.
Its only shareholder is Mr Eliasch and its official status has always been listed as ‘dormant’.
In some circumstances, dormant non-trading companies can be used to hold assets (such as property, brand names, assets or trademarks) on behalf their owners, until such time as they are needed. Could this be the case with Naples Gold?
It seems not: instead, a spokesman for Naples Gold insists that the secretive firm was a ‘shelf’ company created for a very different purpose: to ‘facilitate a charitable initiative to con- serve rainforest’.
The rainforest project, which apparently would have been a collaboration between Prince Andrew and Mr Eliasch, was first pursued in 2003, at around the time the firm was formed, the spokesman said.
However, it was later scrapped because Andrew seemingly decided that being involved would represent a ‘potential conflict’ with the work of his brother Prince Charles, who ‘spearheads’ rainforest conservation for the Royal Family.
As for his decision to use the name Andrew Inverness on company documents, the spokesman said that this was at the suggestion of Mr Eliasch to ‘avoid media attention until such time as the charitable rainforest conservation initiative was ready to be launched’.
After the idea was abandoned, ‘Naples Gold should have been dissolved in 2005 as it no longer served a purpose’.
We must, of course, take this statement at its word. However it remains unclear why a firm which ‘should have been dissolved’ in 2005 has, instead, continued to file accounts at Companies House on an annual basis ever since, switching offices four times in the process. Neither is it clear why a senior member of the Royal Family should have chosen to remain as a director throughout that period, occasionally signing off those annual accounts.
Nor what persuaded Mr Eliasch to briefly resign his directorship in 2016 (a decade after Naples Gold had supposedly ceased having any purpose) in favour of the tax haven-based firm Eddore Limited.
Also, there is a question over why a conservation initiative should be called Naples Gold.
Indeed, when Mr Eliasch did eventually start a rainforest charity, he gave it a more utilitarian name: Cool Earth.
Asked about this, a source with knowledge of Naples Gold said: ‘It was a shelf company and the name would have changed to appropriately reflect the purpose of the initiative.’
What is incontrovertibly true is that even after the rainforest scheme was abandoned, Mr Eliasch has remained a loyal and valued chum of Prince Andrew.
That friendship has stayed particularly firm as the stench around Andrew’s dealings with Jeffrey Epstein has grown.
In 2011, amid mounting controversy over the Duke’s decision to visit the convicted child sex offender in New York, Mr Eliasch was one of several business leaders to sign a letter to the Sunday Times newspaper praising ‘the good work he [Andrew] undertakes’.
Two years later, he was reported to be among guests who joined Andrew at Ghislaine Maxwell’s birthday dinner at the Dorchester hotel in London.
And in August, two weeks after Epstein’s death, Mr Eliasch issued a statement defending Andrew to the New York Times, saying: ‘Anybody who knows the Duke well knows that he is intensely loyal to his friends and sometimes that loyalty is not in his best interest, and that is what happened here.’
In its coverage, the U.S. newspaper duly described Mr Eliasch as a ‘close friend’ of the Prince.
Such close friends that, as we now know, they started a company together with the Prince calling himself Andrew Inverness, signing official documents with a false residential address, and claiming to be a professional consultant.
Just how much ‘consulting’ this fallen royal has done during his years on the public payroll is, of course, anyone’s guess.