Tuesday, 22 Sep 2020

Prince Andrew hits back at US investigators and claims he has offered to help

Prince Andrew’s legal team has hit back at allegations that he provided ‘zero co-operation’ to US authorities investigating Jeffrey Epstein – instead claiming he has offered to help three times.

Last night it emerged that America’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has submitted a mutual legal assistance (MLA) request to the Home Office to grill the Duke of York as a witness in a criminal investigation into the disgraced financier’s offending.

The Queen’s son’s public image was left in tatters after a disastrous Newsnight interview about his friendship with Epstein, which saw him accused of showing little empathy for the paedophile’s victims.

But in a statement, Andrew’s lawyers said today: ‘The Duke of York has on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the DOJ. Unfortunately, the DOJ has reacted to the first two offers by breaching their own confidentiality rules and claiming that the duke has offered zero co-operation. In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered.’

In the programme’s aftermath the duke stepped back from royal duties – but he since became the focus of US authorities who wanted to question him about the financier, who officials say killed himself in his jail cell while awaiting trial for sex trafficking.

He has since permanently retired from royal duties.

Four days after last year’s interview, the duke said in a statement he was ‘willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required’.

But Geoffrey Berman, who is leading the Epstein inquiry, told reporters in March: ‘Contrary to Prince Andrew’s very public offer to co-operate with our investigation into Epstein’s co-conspirators, an offer that was conveyed via press release, Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary co-operation and our office is considering its options.’

An MLA request made by foreign countries is a formal process used to obtain help in an investigation or prosecution of criminal offences, generally when co-operation cannot be obtained by law enforcement agencies.

The process is normally secret but with reports on both side of the Atlantic about the request Andrew’s legal team stressed its ‘commitment to confidentiality’ and went on to make accusations of ‘misleading media briefings’ against US prosecutors.

The statement said: ‘Any pursuit of an application for mutual legal assistance would be disappointing, since the Duke of York is not a target of the DOJ investigation and has recently repeated his willingness to provide a witness statement.

‘It is hoped that this third offer has not been the cause of the most recent leak about the Duke of York.’

One of Epstein’s victims Virginia Giuffre, who claims she was trafficked by the financier, also alleges the duke had sex with her on three separate occasions, including when she was 17, still a minor under US law.

The duke categorically denies he had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Ms Giuffre.

The statement said: ‘It is a matter of regret that the DOJ has seen fit to breach its own rules of confidentiality, not least as they are designed to encourage witness co-operation.

‘Far from our client acting above the law, as has been implied by press briefings in the US, he is being treated by a lower standard than might reasonably be expected for any other citizen.’

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