Dipesh Gadher on the duke's friendship with Epstein, and the legal cases that threaten to embroil him.
Prince Andrew says he was first introduced to the late American financier and convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein in 1999 by Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of the disgraced newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell. The duke had known Maxwell, a British socialite, since her days at Oxford and had kept in touch when she moved to New York and later started dating Epstein.
At the time of the introduction Andrew was in the twilight of his naval career and eyeing up his next formal role as an international trade envoy for Her Majesty's government. He was curious, he says, to learn more about the business world and its movers and shakers.
"He [Epstein] had the most extraordinary ability to bring extraordinary people together," the duke told the BBC's Newsnight in 2019. "The bit that I remember was going to the dinner parties where you would meet academics, politicians, people from the United Nations. It was a cosmopolitan group of what I would describe as US eminents."
Within a year of their first meeting Andrew was photographed alongside Epstein and Maxwell at Royal Ascot and inviting the couple to a shooting weekend at Sandringham, as well as to his own 40th birthday celebrations at Windsor Castle. In return Andrew was offered the run of Epstein's opulent homes, including his Manhattan townhouse, the Zorro ranch in New Mexico and access to Little St James, the financier's private Caribbean island that has since become synonymous with orgies involving underage girls.
The duke also flew on Epstein's private jet, dubbed the Lolita Express. Andrew insists he never witnessed any wrongdoing — and goes as far as pointing out that he was working at the time as an ambassador for the NSPCC. However, more than two decades later, the full extent of the duke's relationship with Epstein is set to come under scrutiny in two explosive court cases in New York.
A much-publicised civil lawsuit has been filed against Andrew by Virginia Giuffre, a woman who claims she was forced to have sex with the duke on three separate occasions when she was 17. Giuffre, now 38, is claiming unspecified "punitive damages", which could run into millions of pounds if her case succeeds.
The other case involves criminal child sex trafficking charges brought by US prosecutors against Maxwell, 59. Her trial is scheduled to start on November 29 following jury selection.
Prosecution sources have refused to rule out the possibility of forcing Andrew to give evidence. Giuffre, who is also known by her maiden name, Virginia Roberts, first claimed in court that she had been abused by the duke in a defamation action against Maxwell in 2015. However, a judge asked for the specific allegations involving the duke to be struck from the record. That case ended with Maxwell settling out of court.
In August Giuffre took advantage of new child victims laws in New York to sue Andrew directly for "rape in the first degree". She claims that he abused her "for the purpose of gratifying his sexual desires". Giuffre alleges that the duke knew she was a victim of sex trafficking by Epstein and a minor under US law. The abuse, she claims, took place at Maxwell's mews house in Belgravia; at Epstein's home in Manhattan; and on Little St James.
The lawsuit alleges: "During each of the aforementioned incidents, Plaintiff [Giuffre] was compelled by express or implied threats by Epstein, Maxwell, and/or Prince Andrew to engage in sexual acts with Prince Andrew, and feared death or physical injury to herself or another and other repercussions for disobeying Epstein, Maxwell, and Prince Andrew due to their powerful connections, wealth, and authority."
Andrew vehemently denies Giuffre's allegations and claims he has "no recollection" of ever meeting her. His supporters point out that Giuffre's story has changed in part over time. For instance, in a draft memoir she wrote in 2011, titled The Billionaire's Playboy Club, she claimed she had engaged in sexual activity with the duke at Epstein's ranch in New Mexico. But this incident is not mentioned in her current lawsuit. The legal action does claim she was abused by Andrew on Little St James, described in her previous court evidence as an orgy with the duke, Epstein and other young girls. However, her account of the orgy in her memoir has no such mention of the duke.
More problematic for Andrew is the infamous photograph of him with his arm around Giuffre's waist at Maxwell's £1.75 million home in March 2001, when Giuffre alleges he abused her after a visit to Tramp nightclub in Mayfair. The duke's friends have previously claimed that the photo might be a fake because his fingers are "chubbier" in real life, and the whereabouts of the original print remain unknown. Yet nobody has managed to disprove the authenticity of the image either — and it features prominently in the civil complaint filed in New York by Giuffre's lawyers.
Nor does Andrew's "Pizza Express" alibi leave him in the clear. An analysis of events reveals that he could have had time to meet Giuffre on the night of the alleged rape after collecting Princess Beatrice from a friend's birthday party at a branch of the pizza chain in Woking.
An official itinerary also places Andrew in New York the following month, around the time that Giuffre claims he abused her again. Sources claim he stayed at Epstein's home.
"During this encounter, Maxwell forced Plaintiff, a child, and another victim to sit on Prince Andrew's lap as Prince Andrew touched her," the lawsuit alleges. The other "victim" is a reference to Johanna Sjoberg, Epstein's former PA, then aged 21. Andrew is alleged to have groped Sjoberg in the presence of his own Spitting Image puppet. In a statement, Buckingham Palace said the claims were "categorically untrue".
Sjoberg, now 41, is also thought to be considering bringing her own case against the duke or, at the very least, may be called as a witness on behalf of Giuffre.
It is no wonder that royal sources are struggling to work out who to believe. In August one insider said of the duke: "There are inconsistencies in his own account and in the credibility of his own account. If it goes to trial in the #MeToo era, it's going to be challenging to swing a jury behind the duke."
Since Giuffre filed her action in New York, Andrew and his lawyers seem to have been engaged in an unedifying game of hide and seek. Rather than putting out a statement to deny the claims, the duke bolted to Scotland, presumably a bid to avoid being formally served with a writ. Giuffre's US legal team resorted to engaging the services of a private investigator, Cesar Augusto Sepulveda, to hand over the papers to a police officer standing guard outside the Royal Lodge in Windsor.
Lewis Kaplan, the US judge presiding over the case — who has previously sent down al-Qaeda terrorists and mob bosses — has made it clear that he will not countenance any more time-wasting. However, with an LA-based lawyer being drafted in to represent the duke at the 11th hour, the case could now rumble on for years.
Last Wednesday Andrew's lawyers were granted access by a district judge in New York to a confidential settlement between Epstein and Giuffre from 2009, which they hope could exempt the duke from any liability. However, Andrew is not named in the agreement and Giuffre's lawyers are so confident it does not cover him that they have helped to get it unsealed.
Because this case is a civil action, there is no prospect of Andrew being extradited.
The case against Maxwell, 59, however, is a criminal matter and could have more serious ramifications for the duke. The socialite was arrested by FBI officers in New Hampshire in July 2020, almost a year after Epstein killed himself while awaiting trial on child sex offences.
Maxwell was initially accused of recruiting girls as young as 14 for Epstein from 1994 to 1997, including one alleged victim in London.
"In some instances, Maxwell was present for and participated in the sexual abuse of minor victims," the indictment alleges. "Some such incidents occurred in the context of massages, which developed into sexual encounters."
Earlier this year, however, the charges against the Briton were expanded to include sex trafficking of minors from 2001 to 2004. Crucially, this covers a period of time when Andrew was a regular guest at the homes of Maxwell and Epstein. Maxwell has pleaded not guilty, but she faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted. She is separately accused of two counts of perjury relating to her 2015 defamation battle with Giuffre.
Maxwell's older brother, Ian, believes she is being scapegoated. "The charges she faces were brought in an attempt to save face and give the baying crowd a scalp, deflecting from the authorities' own incompetence in allowing Epstein to die on their watch," he claims.
Remaining loyal to her old friend, Maxwell has no intention of calling Andrew as a defence witness. Prosecutors, however, could yet seek his testimony and have the power to subpoena him. "Anything is possible," said a US judicial source. Meanwhile, a wider investigation continues into Epstein's sex-trafficking network, in which Andrew is still regarded as "a person of interest" by US law enforcement officials. They have been seeking a witness statement from the duke for many months, accusing him at one point last year of "zero co-operation".
Andrew's aides refute this and say he has repeatedly offered to help. However, there is concern that his hazy recollection of events could spectacularly backfire if he gives evidence under oath and US prosecutors are able to prove that he has lied.
"That could come back to haunt him with a perjury charge," said one associate.
Written by: Dipesh Gadher
© The Times of London