In response to a statement from the prince’s British lawyers that he has repeatedly sought to talk to American investigators, US attorney Geoffrey Berman, in New York, said in his own statement that Andrew has done nothing of the kind.
“Prince Andrew yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to cooperate 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,” Berman said.
The sparring marked a dramatic twist in a months-long probe launched by US prosecutors in New York.
With Buckingham Palace having washed its hands of the saga after the prince’s mea culpa over his “ill-judged association” with Epstein last November, behind the scenes a “working group” has been trawling through case files in an effort to clear his name.
Although to many it may seem an impossible task in light of the continuing negative publicity, the British lawyer’s statement earlier on Monday marks the start of a meticulously planned campaign that began in January when Blackfords, Andrew’s lawyers, instructed Clare Montgomery, QC, a leading extradition lawyer.
Described as “the most formidable member of the bar”, her previous clients have included former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. The statement also confirmed the hiring of specialist defence barrister Stephen Ferguson, described as a “fearless cross examiner” adept at “demolishing prosecution cases”.
Both are being briefed by Gary Bloxsome, a criminal defence solicitor who has defended British troops against war crime allegations and is understood to have been appointed directly by Andrew.
In March, the London Telegraph revealed that Mark Gallagher, a former director of corporate affairs and chief of staff at ITV, had been brought onside to handle the PR through his private client business, Riverside Advisory.
Nicknamed “the backroom fixer”, Gallagher is one of Britain’s most highly respected spin doctors, having sat on the main board of Camelot Group after being public affairs director at ITN. His private clients over the last six years have included those falsely accused of child abuse by Carl Beech.
“This is a case where the presumption of innocence has been turned on its head, and the duke has been presumed guilty until proven innocent,” one source said.
“The US Department of Justice said early on that the duke was only ever being treated as a witness and yet the implication of criminal activity has continued unchallenged.
“It’s quite clear the DoJ has comprehensively mishandled the Epstein investigation from the very beginning and have been trying to use the duke as a lightning conductor.”
They accuse US lawyers pursuing civil claims on behalf of Epstein’s victims against his multimillion-dollar estate of using Andrew as a “high profile battering ram”. Yet one victim, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has proved impossible to ignore. Giuffre, who now lives in Queensland and heads an organisation called Victims Refuse Silence, said last year the prince “knows what he’s done” after claiming Epstein forced her to have sex with Andrew three times when she was 17. Andrew vehemently denies the claims.
Although they have never sought to bad-mouth Giuffre — who insiders say “there is no doubt” was a victim of Epstein’s crimes — Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, is another matter.
Monday’s first salvo was fired in response to the front page of The Sun, headlined “Yanks: Hand Over Andy”, revealing the Department of Justice had submitted a “mutual legal assistance” request to question the prince. It came after Berman claimed in March Andrew had “completely shut the door” on cooperating, following briefings that there had been a “wall of silence” and “zero cooperation”.
One insider described the leaking of the legal request as “the third time the duke has been stitched up as a kipper”, amid accusations the department has repeatedly broken its own confidentiality rules for witnesses.
A source close to Berman’s team openly admitted in March the prince had been “made an example of” because he publicly said in his November statement: “I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”
Yet while his team seems to understand “assistance” to mean supplying a witness statement, US prosecutors think cooperation should amount to a sit-down interview.
His lawyers have said they do not want to make any further public statements on the possible next stages.
Yet it is thought the timing of the statement runs deeper than simply a rebuttal of Berman’s very public protestations about Andrew.
Having taken a step back after admitting “Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organisations and charities that I am proud to support”, there is certainly a sense Andrew believes he can one day resume royal duties – despite recent reports suggesting he is a “busted flush” and “toxic”.
While the Royal family is said to have “no plans to review” his position after his car-crash Newsnight interview last year, with the Queen understood to be “resigned” to the demise of her favourite son, he appears to have other ideas.
Having been photographed with former wife Sarah, Duchess of York, packing cupcakes at their shared Royal Lodge home in Windsor and delivering care parcels to the Thames Hospice in April, he is secretly pinning his hope on a “complete exoneration”, insiders say.
Although he has already given up most of his charity commitments, with many of his patronages severing links with him, he retains his military commands, including his role as colonel of the Grenadier Guards.
Senior military officials have called for him to be “faded out” from his honorary appointments, saying he has become an embarrassment, but it seems the former Royal Navy helicopter pilot sees the military as his possible salvation.
As one source put it: “He is conscious of the void left by the Duke of Sussex [Prince Harry] and wonders if he will one day be able to fill it.”
Despite everything that has happened, the so-called spare to the heir is still desperate to play a part in a monarchy that appears to have turned its back on him.
The Telegraph, London; Bloomberg