Prince Andrew could be ‘covert target’
A British media lawyer has suggested Prince Andrew may be a "covert target" of US authorities in the case against Ghislaine Maxwell given their repeated attempts to get him to attend a face-to-face interview in the US.
Mark Stephens told BBC Breakfast on Friday US authorities are "piling enormous pressure on Ghislaine Maxwell" to provide evidence after she was charged with alleged sex trafficking among other offences on Thursday.
"If, as she is, facing effectively a lifetime in jail, why wouldn't you try and cut a plea deal? You would try and get a reduced sentence and if that means bringing down some rich and powerful men … then in those circumstances, I think that's the pressure that they're putting on Ghislaine Maxwell," he said.
During Thursday's announcement the acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, told reporters she would "welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us".
"We would like to have the benefit of his statement," she said.
However Prince Andrew's legal team said they were "bewildered" by this move, given they have offered to speak to the Department of Justice (DOJ) three times.
"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," an unnamed source on his legal team said.
Mr Stephens said he believed US lawyers were doing a "disservice" to the victims of Jeffrey Epstein by failing to come to the UK and take a written statement from Prince Andrew as they are able to do - even while pursuing a face-to-face interview at a later date.
"They should be gathering the evidence they can at this point and I think the fact they're not … they're insisting on a face-to-face interview in America tells me that actually they think they might be able to charge him if they can get him to America and he's not really a witness. I think he's probably a covert target of this operation," he said.
"Of course he remains innocent, he hasn't been charged with anything, but he hasn't been treated like any ordinary witness."
MAXWELL FOUND, 'TUCKED AWAY'
On Thursday, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that Ghislaine Maxwell had been arrested at a luxury property in New Hampshire called "Tucked Away" where she had been quietly living.
She was charged with a string of sex offences including trafficking and perjury relating to a period between 1994 and 1997 in what was described as a "prequel" to the case against Jeffrey Epstein.
Ms Maxwell has denied all charges against her but faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
In March, she launched a lawsuit against Epstein's estate, seeking compensation for legal fees and security costs incurred by her association with Epstein.
In it she said she had "had no involvement in or knowledge of Epstein's alleged misconduct."
Her arrest has thrown the spotlight back on Prince Andrew, given the royal's admission of friendship during a Newsnight interview last year.
Prince Andrew is believed to have been introduced to Jeffrey Epstein by Maxwell, a British socialite who is the daughter of a publishing magnate, Robert Maxwell.
He was pictured with Maxwell and Virginia Giuffre (previously Virginia Roberts) at a property in London in 2001 but has vehemently denied allegations he had any sexual contact or relationship with the then teen. Virginia Giuffre has alleged she was used as a sex slave by Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein and has urged Prince Andrew to "come clean" over the issue.
But the Duke of York has denied any wrongdoing, including witnessing anything done by Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein himself.
He previously issued a statement when stepping down from royal duties over the scandal saying "I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein."
"His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure. I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives. Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson also weighed in on the issue on Friday, saying the British government had not been approached by US authorities for help arranging an interview with the Queen's second son.
"No such approach has been made. It's a matter for the royal family," he told LBC radio.
"Were it to be made … it would be a matter for the British government," said Mr Johnson. "Of course, the law must be carried out and the law must be observed."
Meanwhile, a lawyer for Epstein's victims, Gloria Allred, told Good Morning Britain the Duke of York's failure to conduct an interview was a "torture test" for her clients.
"He needs to do that. He needs to do it without delay. It is so traumatising and difficult for the victims not to know the truth," she said.
"And this kind of torture test that Prince Andrew is subjecting the victims to, like will he or won't he give a statement, if he will, when?
"More excuses, more delays, it really is painful for many of the victims. It's just not fair."
Prince Andrew's legal team have previously made clear the royal has not been a "target" of investigations but rather had his co-operation sought.
They pointed the finger at the US DOJ for leaking to the media and undermining trust in the process.
"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," they said.
GIUFFRE REACTS TO MAXWELL ARREST
Epstein and Prince Andrew's accuser, Virginia Giuffre, tweeted that "Orange is the new black" in response to the news of Maxwell's arrest.
"Thank you to @FBI @SDNYnews and anyone involved in the arrest of this insidious creature. Hope the judge throws the book at her. So so so happy- she's finally where she belongs."
Orange is the new black- #GhislaineMaxwellArrested Thank you to @FBI @SDNYnews and anyone involved in the arrest of this insidious creature. Hope the judge throws the book at her. So so so happy- she’s finally where she belongs. #LOCKEDUP #ChildTrafficking #FightingBack 🦋 pic.twitter.com/CuZd4W0Cli— Virginia Giuffre (@VRSVirginia) July 2, 2020
She told the Weekend Australian she cried "tears of joy" upon hearing news of Maxwell's arrest.
"It felt even better than when Jeffrey got arrested … he was a pedophile, they cannot be cured. They either belong in jail or six feet under. Ghislaine, on the other hand, is an evil monster," she said.
Epstein committed suicide in jail while awaiting trial last year in a death that sparked a string of conspiracy theories over whether he was silenced.
Prince Andrew stepped back from royal duties in 2019 after giving a disastrous interview on BBC Newsnight in which he claimed to have been too "honourable" to stop seeing Epstein after his conviction for underage sex.
He has since faced claims from US prosecutors that he is running shy of giving his version of events.
Another lawyer representing the alleged victims said Andrew's royal connections were helping him avoid facing justice.
"He has been hiding behind not only the royal family but his attorneys," lawyer Spencer Coogan told BBC radio.
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Prince Andrew could be 'covert target'