Prince Andrew in ‘war of words’ with US over Jeffrey Epstein probe: what next?
Duke lashes out as US Department of Justice asks UK Home Office to call him to court
Prince Andrew’s hopes of retiring from the spotlight have been shattered by an escalating row with the US authorities over an inquiry into Jeffrey Epstein.
The Royal announced in late May that he was stepping back from his official duties due to his links to the late convicted paedophile. But just weeks later, US prosecutors have publicly accused Andrew of having “sought to falsely portray himself” as willing to cooperate with their investigations - a claim that he has repeatedly denied.
The US Department of Justice has now submitted a formal request to the UK to force him to testify - so what next for the panned old Duke of York?
What has been said?
US attorney Geoffrey Berman, who is leading the investigation into Epstein, has hit out at the Duke this week after having previously accused him of providing “zero cooperation”.
Speaking to reporters in March, the presecutor said that “contrary to Prince Andrew’s very public offer to cooperate with our investigation... [he] has now completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation”. Berman, attorney for the Southern District of New York, also warned that his office was “considering its options” in terms of Andrew’s failure to assist law enforcement.
On Monday, lawyers for Prince Andrew issued their first public rebuttal of the “inaccurate” claims, reports the BBC.
But Berman then issued a counter statement claiming that the Duke was misleading the public on his willingness to cooperate.
“Today, Prince Andrew yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to cooperate with an ongoing federal criminal investigation into sex trafficking and related offences committed by Jeffrey Epstein and his associates,” Berman said.
He added that the Royal “has not given an interview to federal authorities, has repeatedly declined our request to schedule such an interview, and nearly four months ago informed us unequivocally - through the very same counsel who issued today’s release - that he would not come in for such an interview”.
Berman’s statement provoked another rebuttal by the Duke’s lawyers, who insisted that the US authorities were “breaching their own confidentiality rules” and were seeking publicity rather than assistance, reports The Telegraph.
“We were given an unequivocal assurance that our discussions and the interview process would remain confidential,” said Andrew’s lawyers. “The Duke of York has on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the DoJ [Department of Justice].”
Why do they want to speak to Andrew?
Andrew was a friend of Epstein, who died last year while in custody in Manhattan awaiting trial for sex trafficking.
The two men were pictured together in 2011, two years after Epstein was released from prison for procuring an underage prostitute.
The Royal denies all claims of sexual misconduct relating to the Epstein case, and having had sex with Giuffre. He has previously been said to be “angry” and “bewildered” over the accusations that he has failed to cooperate with US authorities over the Epstein investigation.
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The US DoJ “has formally told the UK the Duke of York is now caught up in a criminal probe for the first time”, The Sun reports.
The BBC says the US authorities have submitted a mutual legal assistance (MLA) request to the UK Home Office to speak to the Duke, though this has not been formally confirmed by either side.
Under the terms of a MLA, the Royal could be called to a UK court to answer questions if he doesn’t voluntarily respond.
His legal team are said to be extremely unhappy about the leaking of the MLA request, with a source describing it as “an extraordinary breach of confidentiality”, according to the broadcaster’s royal correspondent Jonny Dymond.
Despite the rising tensions, US Attorney General William Barr says that while Prince Andrew may have to answer questions in a UK court, he will not be extradited.
Speaking to Fox News, Barr said: “I don’t think it’s a question of handing him over. I think it’s just a question of having him provide some evidence.”