Video report by ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship
Lawyers for Prince Andrew have again hit back at allegations he provided "zero co-operation” to US authorities investigating convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, instead claiming he has made three offers of help.
It comes after the Duke of York was accused of attempting to “falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to co-operate” with US authorities investigating Epstein.
Andrew's legal team claimed confidentiality rules had been breached and insisted the royal has made three offers to help with the probe into his former associate.
However, the US lawyer leading the Epstein inquiry said in a response to a statement issued by the Duke's lawyers, that a request to schedule an interview has been repeatedly declined.
America’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has submitted a mutual legal assistance (MLA) request to the Home Office to quiz Andrew as a witness in a criminal investigation into the disgraced financier’s offending.
An MLA is a method of cooperation between two states for help in a legal or criminal matter and could result in Andrew being compelled to give evidence in a UK court if he was unwilling to provide it in another form.
US prosecutors want to speak to the Duke of York – as a witness rather than a suspect – as part of the inquiry into Epstein and the many claims made about him by those who say he trafficked them for sex.
But in a statement the duke’s legal team said: “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.”
The statement also claimed the comments by Geoffrey Berman, the lawyer leading the probe, who said the duke had “shut the door” on voluntary co-operation, were “inaccurate”.
Geoffrey Berman said in response to the duke’s statement: “Today, Prince Andrew 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.
“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.”
Royal Editor Chris Ship says that now that Prince Andrew is "free of the shackles" of Buckingham Palace he can be more outspoken
Prince Andrew had a long friendship with Epstein and stayed at his homes, including Epstein’s mansion in New York and his home in the US Virgin Islands.
Prosecutors believe he could have vital information – although the Duke insists he never witnessed or suspected any wrongdoing during the times he stayed at Epstein’s homes.
Asked if they had received an MLA request for Prince Andrew, the Home Office would only say: “As a matter of long-standing policy and practice, we neither confirm nor deny the existence of mutual legal assistance requests.”
If an MLA request is granted, Prince Andrew could be asked to give evidence in the UK.
Usually that testimony would not be under oath.
However, if he were to refuse to co-operate, the Home Office guidance says “it may be possible to compel the individual to attend court. However, the witness can exercise the right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer any questions at court.”
Prince Andrew stood down from royal duties last year following a disastrous television interview, which he had hoped would show his innocence.
The Queen’s second son vehemently denies the allegations made against him by one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claims she was trafficked to Prince Andrew for sex in London.
The Prince maintains he never saw or met her.
Buckingham Palace no longer acts on the Duke’s behalf since he stepped down as a working royal and refers all enquiries to his legal team.
Read the statement from Prince Andrew's lawyers in full: