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 that 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.
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.
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."
On Thursday, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced that Maxwell had been arrested at a luxury property in New Hampshire 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.
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.