Andrew offered to help Epstein prosecutors

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52969699

Prince AndrewImage copyright
AFP

The Duke of York’s lawyers have rejected claims by US prosecutors that he has not cooperated with the inquiry into sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, insisting he has offered to help.

US officials previously accused him of providing “zero co-operation”.

But in a statement, Prince Andrew’s legal team said he offered help on “at least three occasions”.

The lawyers suggested the US Department of Justice was seeking publicity rather than accepting the offer of help.

The duke stepped away from royal duties last year following a widely-criticised BBC interview about his relationship with Epstein, who took his own life in a US jail cell in August, aged 66, while awaiting trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.

The duke has been heavily scrutinised for his friendship with Epstein, but he has said he did not witness any suspicious behaviour during visits to the US financier’s homes.

In a statement, the legal team said: “The Duke of York has on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the US Department of Justice (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 cooperation. In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered.”

Earlier on Monday, it was revealed that the DoJ had made a formal request to speak to the prince as part of its Epstein inquiry, by submitting a mutual legal assistance (MLA) request to the UK Home Office.

Under the terms of a MLA request if Prince Andrew does not voluntarily respond, he can be called to a UK court to answer questions.

The duke’s lawyers described the request as “disappointing” because the Duke of York was “not a target of the DoJ investigation and has recently repeated his willingness to provide a witness statement”.

‘Misleading briefings’

His lawyers, Clare Montgomery QC and Stephen Ferguson, said they had previously chosen not to make any comment about their dealings with the DoJ but had now released a “clarifying” statement “in view of misleading media briefings”.

In late January, the US prosecutor in charge of the inquiry into Epstein – Geoffrey Berman – claimed that the prince had provided “zero cooperation”, and in March he said Andrew had “completely shut the door” on helping investigators.

The statement from the lawyers describes the comments “as inaccurate”.

They said the first time US authorities requested the duke’s help was on 2 January. They were advised the duke “is not and has never been a target of their criminal investigations into Epstein” and they wanted his “confidential, voluntary cooperation”.

The statement added that they were given “an unequivocal assurance that our discussions and the interview process would remain confidential”.

It was a “matter of regret” that the DoJ had breached its own rules of confidentiality, the lawyers said, “as they are designed to encourage witness cooperation”.

“Far from our client acting above the law, as has been implied by press briefings in the US, he is being treated by a lower standard than might reasonably be expected for any other citizen,” they said.

Wronged. That’s the word that sums up this icily angry statement from Prince Andrew’s lawyers.

They kept their silence as the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S Berman, paraded on the steps of Epstein’s former New York City mansion and flung about what they say are lies about the duke.

They believed the US Department of Justice when it told them that confidentiality would be respected; then they saw it flouted.

The lawyers heard the Department of Justice when it said Prince Andrew was, and had never been, a target of the investigation; and then a well-placed leak told the world that the US was trying to drag the duke to court.

In the cool language of lawyers, they are mightily upset on behalf of their client; perhaps, they ask, the department is seeking publicity rather than the assistance proffered? The leaks have presented they say an “entirely misleading” version of the relationship between them and the US authorities.

Up until this point the duke has only been spoken for by so-called friends dripping poison into the ears of friendly journalists. But this is different. The lawyers think their client has been wronged, and they are not shy of telling the world about it.

In his interview with the BBC’s Newsnight programme in November 2019, the duke said he did not regret his friendship with Epstein, despite the financier having been convicted of soliciting an underage girl for prostitution in 2008.

He also denied having sex with Virginia Giuffre, when she was a teenager, who said she was trafficked by Epstein when she was 17.

Shortly after the interview was broadcast, Prince Andrew said he was “willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency”.

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