The stakes for Prince Andrew over his former friendship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein have been raised dramatically.
It’s been reported that US prosecutors have made a formal request for the Royal to speak to them.
The request – according to The Sun newspaper – has been made in the filing of a Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) to the Home Office.
An MLA is a method of cooperation between two states for help in a legal or criminal matter.
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.
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.
In December last year, Buckingham Palace issued a statement saying: “The Duke is willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”
A source in the Royal’s legal team has told ITV News that they are “playing a straight bat”.
They said: “Legal discussions with the Department of Justice [in the US] are subject to strict confidentiality rules, as set out in their own guidelines.
"We have chosen to abide by both the letter and the spirit of these rules, which is why we have made no comment about anything related to the DOJ during the course of this year.”
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.”
Gloria Allred, one of the lawyers representing some of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims said of the latest development: “By refusing to voluntarily answer questions posed by law enforcement (or by private lawyers for the victims) Prince Andrew has demonstrated disrespect for the victims and their need to know the truth.”
She added: “It is time for the Prince to stop this cat and mouse game and stand before the bar of justice.”
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.