The Duke of York’s war of words with US authorities

Duke of York; US authorities clash with Prince Andrew

US authorities have once again said they would “welcome” the chance to speak to the Duke of York over the Jeffrey Epstein scandal after arresting the disgraced financier’s ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell in connection with his crimes.

Andrew has been locked in a long-running battle with law enforcement in the US over his availability to answer questions about his former friend and convicted sex offender Epstein.

The duke has even been accused of attempting to “falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to co-operate” and was said to have “completely shut the door on voluntary co-operation” by Geoffrey Berman, a US prosecutor leading the investigation into Epstein until last month.

But the duke’s legal team claim he has made three separate offers this year to give a witness statement, and a royal source has described Mr Berman’s actions as “frankly bewildering” and a breach of confidentiality rules.

Acting US attorney for the district Audrey Strauss struck a milder tone on Thursday when she told reporters she would simply “welcome” a statement from the Queen’s son at a press conference announcing charges against Maxwell, including allegations she participated in the abuse of young girls by Epstein.

“I’m not going to comment on anyone’s status in this investigation but I will say that we would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us, we would like to have the benefit of his statement,” she said.

A source close to the duke’s working group said: “The duke’s team remains bewildered given that we have twice communicated with the DOJ in the last month and to date we have had no response.”

Earlier this year a 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 Andrew as a witness in the 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 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”.

US attorney general William Barr weighed into the matter has dismissed reports the UK would extradite the royal to the US.

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”.

Mr Berman, who has overseen prosecutions of key allies of President Donald Trump, stepped down from his role as US attorney for the Southern District of New York last month despite initially denying resigning.

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.

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