Grim outlook for beleaguered Prince

 

Perhaps it is a good thing that Prince Andrew can't sweat.

This morning, news broke that US authorities have formally demanded that the royal be made available for questioning over his ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, meaning the 60-year-old Prince could be made to face court within weeks.

Today's news will considerably dial up the pressure on Andrew - and the palace - over the beleaguered royal's connection with Epstein.

Ironically perhaps, today also happens to be the Queen's official birthday - hardly the gift Her Majesty most likely wanted.

Here's what you need to know.

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SO, WHAT'S JUST HAPPENED?

The United States Department of Justice has bypassed Buckingham Palace and formally lodged a "mutual legal assistance" (MLA) request with the UK's Home Office last month. Under the terms of the 1994 legal treaty between the countries, MLA requests are only used in criminal cases.

 

If the Home Office approves the MLA request, two things could happen.

Option one, which according to the Sun is typically used for witnesses to crimes, would see Andrew voluntarily give an interview and sign a statement, however not under oath.

The second option, could see the Duke attend Westminster Magistrates' Court to provide oral or written evidence under oath. This could be held privately (or "in camera") with no press or public present.

The Home Office is yet to respond to the MLA request, so it's a waiting game.

DOES ANDREW HAVE DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY?

No, only the Queen has sovereign immunity.

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew attended church in Sandringham in January amid the Prince’s ongoing scandal. Picture: Getty Images.
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Andrew attended church in Sandringham in January amid the Prince’s ongoing scandal. Picture: Getty Images.

In 2002, Princess Anne pleaded guilty to a charge under the dangerous dog act, giving her the ignominious distinction of being the first member of the royal family to be convicted of a criminal offence.

A CRISIS A LONG TIME COMING

The Andrew/Epstein saga goes back decades and spans continents.

The duo are reported to have met in 1999 via Epstein's alleged madam Ghislaine Maxwell and then are believed to have met on at least 10 other occasions, including in the United States and at Epstein's private Caribbean island.

Virginia Roberts Giuffre has alleged that in 2001, when she was 17 years old, she was trafficked by Epstein to London where she had sex with Andrew. She has also alleged that she had sex the royal on two other occasions, at his New York mansion and on his island.

Andrew has strenuously and repeatedly denied these claims.

Virginia Giuffre discussed her experience with the Prince in a BBC Interview in November 2019. Picture: BBC
Virginia Giuffre discussed her experience with the Prince in a BBC Interview in November 2019. Picture: BBC

THE PRINCE AND THE SEX OFFENDER

In December 2010, Andrew was photographed walking through New York's Central Park with Epstein, crucially by which point the financier was a convicted sex offender.

The shots were published in the UK in February 2011. In January 2011, Epstein was deemed a Level 3 sex offender, the highest possible risk level.

The same month, the Mail on Sunday published a photo showing Andrew with his arm around Roberts Giuffre's waist with Maxwell standing off to the side. At the time, Roberts Giuffre did not allege sexual contact with Andrew.

Prince Andrew smiling as he stands with his left arm around the waist of a young Virginia Roberts. It is alleged to have been taken in early 2001. Picture: Backgrid.
Prince Andrew smiling as he stands with his left arm around the waist of a young Virginia Roberts. It is alleged to have been taken in early 2001. Picture: Backgrid.

In a very public show of support for her son, in March 2011, the Queen invested him with the insignia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, the highest possible honour for "personal service" to the sovereign.

However, in the wake of the public furore over the royal's ties to Epstein, Andrew was forced to resign as an official British trade envoy in July 2011.

In 2015, Andrew was named in court filings, as part of a US civil case against Epstein, in which it was alleged that Epstein forced Roberts "to have sexual relations" on three separate occasions with "a member of the British Royal Family, Prince Andrew (aka Duke of York)."

The Guardian reports that, according to testimony filed by her lawyers, Epstein allegedly instructed Giuffre "to give the prince whatever he required".

Andrew has strongly denied any sexual contact with Roberts or any other underage girls, with a Buckingham Palace spokesman saying: "Any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue."

According to the BBC, at the time, Roberts Giuffre's lawyers sent Andrew "a letter asking him to respond under oath to the allegations. They say the letter was sent back to them as having been refused by the recipient".

In July 2019, Epstein was arrested for a second time and was accused of sex trafficking of underage girls.

The following month, he was discovered dead in his New York jail cell, however in the wake of his death, US investigators pledged to continue the investigation.

"Let me assure you that case will continue on against anyone who was complicit with Epstein," William Barr, the US Attorney-General, said.

TV DISASTER

The revelation of today's MLA request comes, ironically, nearly six months to the day after Andrew sat down for his disastrous interview with the BBC's Newsnight program in November last year.

Prince Andrew sat down with BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis to be questioned about his links to Epstein in November. Source: BBC
Prince Andrew sat down with BBC Newsnight's Emily Maitlis to be questioned about his links to Epstein in November. Source: BBC

 

Reportedly in an attempt to draw a line under the entire issue, Andrew agreed to be grilled by veteran journalist Emily Maitlis over his association with the disgraced financier, however the end result was an unremitting PR disaster for the palace.

Throughout the nearly hour-long interview, the duke showed no sympathy or empathy for Epstein's victims; said he did not regret his friendship with Epstein because "The people that I met and the opportunities that I was given to learn either by him or because of him were actually very useful"; and that he had thought staying with the convicted sex offender in 2010 was the "honourable thing."

Andrew also used the interview to deny Roberts Giuffre's claims saying: "It didn't happen. I can absolutely categorically tell you it never happened.

"I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever."

Only days after the toe-curling, hour-long interview went to air, Andrew was forced to step back from official royal duties "for the foreseeable future."

Last week, the Sunday Times reported that the royal family has "no plans to review his position."

Translation: There is no chance that the scandal-prone Duke of York would ever return to frontline royal duties.

 

'ZERO CO-OPERATION'

When Andrew resigned in November last year, he had said in his statement "I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."

However, this year, a trans-Atlantic war of words broke out over the question of Andrew sitting down with investigators.

In January this year the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman, speaking to the media while standing outside Epstein's palatial New York mansion, criticised the duke for providing "zero co-operation". Berman alleged that the royal had not responded to requests from US lawyers and the FBI to be interviewed.

Following that, sources close to the duke insisted he had not been approached by authorities and was "angry and bewildered" by the suggestion.

In March, Berman struck back saying that: "Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary co-operation and our office is considering its options."

The same month it was revealed that Andrew had hired Britain's most respected extradition lawyer, Clare Montgomery QC.

 

'DIPLOMATIC NIGHTMARE'

This latest move has created "a diplomatic nightmare," a source has told The Sun.

"It's a huge statement of intent from the US and it moves Andrew into the realms of a criminal investigation," the source has said.

"The DoJ does not make a request of this nature lightly, especially one involving a senior member of the British royal family.

"It puts the UK government in a very difficult position - and the Duke of York even more so."

WHAT DOES BUCKINGHAM PALACE HAVE TO SAY?

As of the time of writing, nothing and it is not known if they will comment. That's because, since stepping back as a senior royal, Andrew has had his own legal and PR teams working for him.

BAD NEWS WEEK

Today's news caps off a week of bad press for the father-of-two. Over the weekend it was revealed that he and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York have put their $33 million Swiss chalet up for sale in a bid to repay a $12 million debt to the property's former owner.

The Duke and Duchess of York, parents of Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, put their $33 million Swiss chalet up for sale over the weekend. Picture: Getty Images.
The Duke and Duchess of York, parents of Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice, put their $33 million Swiss chalet up for sale over the weekend. Picture: Getty Images.

The Daily Mail has also reported that the Queen has intervened to ensure that Andrew would retain his official $546,000 protection officers, a move that is likely to prove controversial.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

We wait and see how the UK's Home Office will respond to the MLA request, and then in turn, how the duke and his lawyers will react.

What is unequivocal is that this is a public relations crisis of the highest magnitude and one that looks set to continue to dog the duke.

Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.

Originally published as Grim outlook for beleaguered Prince


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