The Duke of York’s role as trade ambassador is at the centre of controversy after a leaked document showed how he criticised France and America and condemned “idiotic” anti-corruption investigators during a trip representing Britain abroad.
US ambassador Tatiana Gfoeller described Prince Andrew boasting “cockily” about UK influence in central Asia in an expletive-laden discussion with British businessmen in Kyrgyzstan which “verged on the rude”. Her comments came in a confidential diplomatic cable contained in a tranche of 250,000 secret documents obtained by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks. Other revelations in the second day of leaks included dispatches showing Chinese frustration with its ally North Korea and suggesting Beijing may be ready to accept reunification with the South.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday said the Obama administration “deeply regrets” the leaks and was taking “aggressive steps to hold responsible those who stole this information”. Mrs Clinton said WikiLeaks had acted illegally in posting the material, adding: “This disclosure is not just an attack on America’s foreign policy interests. It is an attack on the international community: the alliances and partnerships, the conversations and negotiations that safeguard global security and advance economic prosperity. It puts people’s lives in danger, threatens our national security and undermines our efforts to work with other countries.”
Prince Andrew’s comments came in a two-hour brunch for UK and Canadian businessmen attended by Ms Gfoeller in Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in 2008. Her cable, published on The Guardian’s website after the newspaper entered into an agreement with WikiLeaks, summarised the meeting for State Department officials in Washington. She said: “Astonishingly candid, the discussion at times verged on the rude (from the British side).”
Andrew attacked the Serious Fraud Office probe – later closed – into alleged kickbacks related to BAE Systems’ multibillion-pound Al-Yamama arms deal with Saudi Arabia, said Ms Gfoeller. She said: “He railed at British anti-corruption investigators, who had had the ‘idiocy’ of almost scuttling the Al-Yamama deal with Saudi Arabia.”
In “an astonishing display of candour”, the British businessmen alleged that nothing got done in Kyrgyzstan unless the son of the then president got a cut, and Andrew agreed that he had heard the same name “over and over again” when discussing business in the country.
“At this point, the Duke of York laughed uproariously, saying that ‘all of this sounds exactly like France’,” wrote Ms Gfoeller. Later, discussing the need for Kyrgyzstan to preserve the legal sanctity of contracts to attract Western investment, Andrew again joked: “They won’t need to make any changes to attract the French!”
Ms Gfoeller praised Andrew for being “super-engaged” in the discussion, and said that he had reached out to her “with cordiality and respect, evidently valuing her insights”. But she added that he approached the discussion with “unmitigated patriotic fervour” and reacted “with almost neuralgic patriotism” whenever any comparison between the US and UK came up.
Labour MP John Mann suggested that the Prince might have to consider his unpaid role as trade ambassador. Mr Mann told BBC2’s Newsnight: “If these comments by Prince Andrew are accurate – and of course we don’t know that yet – then clearly it’s of public interest that they are out there, so that he can judge whether he is performing the role well and government can make that judgment as well. Prince Andrew will need to think through if he is actually carrying out this role to the best of his abilities.”
Buckingham Palace said it would not comment on leaked documents.