NEW YORK: American prosecutors accused Britain’s Prince Andrew on Monday of falsely claiming he has made repeated offers to help their investigation into late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
The royal’s lawyers said their client had offered assistance at least three times this year in the case, which centres on lurid sex trafficking claims against the multi-millionaire financier.
Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, which is investigating whether Epstein had any accomplices in his alleged crimes, hit back at the statement from Blackford’s.
“Today, Prince Andrew yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to cooperate with an ongoing federal investigation into sex trafficking and related offences committed by Jeffrey Epstein and his associates,” Berman said.
He added in the statement that Queen Elizabeth II’s second son had “repeatedly declined our request to schedule” an interview.
Berman said that nearly four months ago Blackford’s had “informed us unequivocally” that Andrew would not “come in for such an interview”.
He added: “If Prince Andrew is, in fact, serious about cooperating with the ongoing federal investigation, our doors remain open, and we await word of when we should expect him.”
Andrew, 60, publicly defended his friendship with Epstein in a BBC television interview last year, prompting outrage from his victims, and leading him to quit frontline royal duties.
Blackfords’ statement said claims he had stonewalled investigators were untrue, and accused the US Department of Justice (DoJ) of chasing headlines.
“The Duke of York has on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the DoJ,” the statement said.
“Unfortunately, the DoJ has reacted to the first two offers by breaching their own confidentiality rules and claiming that the Duke has offered zero cooperation.
“In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered.”
Andrew, a former Royal Navy helicopter pilot who as a younger man had a reputation as a playboy prince, is accused of having sexual relations with one woman when she was 17 – an allegation he has vehemently denied.
The woman, Virginia Giuffre, alleges she was trafficked under-age to have sex with friends of Epstein, who was 66 when he killed himself in a New York jail in August last year.
The hedge fund manager, who befriended countless celebrities over the years, including US President Donald Trump, was awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges.
Andrew’s lawyers said they had upheld their commitment to confidentiality but said they were forced to go public “in view of misleading media briefings” from the US.
US investigators had been looking into Epstein’s affairs for more than 16 years but only requested the prince’s help on Jan 2 this year, they said.
“Importantly, the DoJ advised us that the duke is not and has never been a ‘target’ of their criminal investigations into Epstein and that they sought his confidential, voluntary cooperation,” the statement said.
“In the course of these discussions, we asked the DoJ to confirm that our cooperation and any interview arrangements would remain confidential, in accordance with the ordinary rules that apply to voluntary cooperation with the DoJ.
“We were given an unequivocal assurance that our discussions and the interview process would remain confidential.”
The lawyers pointed to two claims from Berman on Jan 27 and March 9 that the duke was refusing to cooperate, leading to “misleading” media reports.
“These statements were inaccurate, and they should not have been made,” Andrew’s lawyers added, accusing the DoJ of treating their client “by a lower standard” than anyone else.
The Sun newspaper on Monday reported that the DoJ had submitted a mutual legal assistance request to Britain’s interior ministry to force the prince to give a statement.
His lawyers said that would be “disappointing” given his willingness to provide a written statement voluntarily.
US attorney general Bill Barr told Fox News Monday that Andrew would not be extradited to the US.