War of words continues over US request to Andrew on Epstein questioning
A war of words continues to rage between the Duke of York’s camp and American authorities over his availability to answer questions about convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Andrew has been accused of attempting to “falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to co-operate” by US Attorney Geoffrey Berman, who is leading the investigation into the disgraced financier.
Mr Berman was responding to the statement from the duke’s legal team, who on Monday issued a strongly-worded defence of their client saying he had made three offers to give a witness statement.
A royal source has described the US Attorney’s comments as another example of the official breaking his own confidentiality rules and that his actions were “frankly bewildering”.
The spat was sparked by details emerging of America’s Department of Justice’s (DOJ) mutual legal assistance (MLA) request to the Home Office, to quiz the Queen’s son as a witness in a criminal investigation into Epstein’s offending.
The duke’s legal team said in its statement: “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.”
Mr Berman, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said the duke had “yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to co-operate with an ongoing federal criminal investigation into sex trafficking and related offences committed by Jeffrey Epstein and his associates, even though the prince 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”.
He added: “If Prince Andrew is, in fact, serious about co-operating with the ongoing federal investigation, our doors remain open and we await word of when we should expect him.”
In response, the source said: “This is the third time Berman has breached his own confidentiality rules, further diminishing our trust in the DOJ’s willingness to play a straight bat. It’s frankly bewildering.”
US attorney general William Barr weighed into the matter, dismissing reports the UK would extradite the royal to the US.
Mr Barr told Fox News: “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.”
Andrew’s public life was left in tatters after his disastrous Newsnight interview about his friendship with Epstein, which saw him accused of showing little empathy for the financier’s victims.
In the programme’s aftermath the duke stepped back from royal duties but became the focus of US authorities who wanted to question him about the financier, who killed himself in his jail cell while awaiting trial for sex trafficking.
Four days after last year’s interview, the duke said he was “willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required”.
But Mr Berman told reporters in March the royal has “completely shut the door on voluntary co-operation”.
That claim was rejected by Andrew’s legal team as “inaccurate”.
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 sides 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.
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.