Prince Andrew is caught up in a war of words with US authorities after being accused of refusing to cooperate with the investigation into his disgraced friend Jeffrey Epstein.
The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, said the Duke of York was trying to "falsely portray himself to the public" after he publicly insisted he had offered to help "at least three times" and was being treated at a "lower standard" than other citizens.
On Monday, Prince Andrew's legal team at Blackfords LLP issued an extraordinary statement refuting claims that the Queen's second son had offered "zero co-operation" and a "wall of silence" to investigators.
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His lawyers, Clare Montgomery QC and Stephen Ferguson, said so far they had chosen not to speak out about any conversations with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) but would now do so in light of "misleading media briefings."
Prince Andrew's team claims the DOJ had been "actively investigating" Epstein for 16 years "yet the first time they requested the Duke's help was on 2nd January 2020."
They said the royal had not been a "target" of investigations, but rather had his co-operation sought. The Blackford's legal team said they requested privacy and were given "unequivocal" assurances any talks with the Duke would be confidential.
"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.
The lawyers also snapped back at "inaccurate" statements from US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, who said in late January that there had been a "wall of silence" from Prince Andrew.
But within hours, Mr Berman had again hit back at the Duke of York's "false" claims.
"Today, 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 offenses 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," he said in a statement released by his office.
"If Prince Andrew is, in fact, serious about cooperating with the ongoing federal investigation, our doors remain open, and we await word of when we should expect him."
In early March, Mr Berman also claimed the Prince had "shut the door" on US authorities.
"These statements were inaccurate, and they should not have been made," the lawyers said.
"It is a matter of regret that the DOJ has seen fit to breach its own rules of confidentiality, not least as they are designed to encourage witness co-operation.
"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.
"Further, those same breaches of confidentiality by the DOJ have given the global media – and, therefore, the worldwide audience – an entirely misleading account of our discussions with them," the lawyers said.
The strongly worded statement comes following reports the DOJ has submitted a mutual legal assistance (MLA) request to the UK Home Office for Prince Andrew over Jeffrey Epstein's offending.
MLA requests are used to obtain assistance in an investigation or prosecution of criminal offences, generally when co-operation cannot be obtained by law enforcement agencies.
But Prince Andrew's lawyers said such an application "would be disappointing" considering he is "not a target" of the DOJ investigation and has "recently repeated his willingness to provide a witness statement."
"It is hoped that this third offer has not been the cause of the most recent leak about the Duke of York," they said.
The furore comes just weeks after a Netflix documentary on Jeffrey Epstein was released featuring Virginia Giuffre, also known as Virginia Roberts, who has alleged she had sex with the Duke of York in 2001 after being trafficked to the UK by Epstein.
The Duke categorically denies he had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Giuffre.
Prince Andrew was forced to step down from his royal role following a disastrous Newsnight interview in November about his relationship with Epstein.
Rather than draw a line under allegations, it raised more questions than answers, particularly given Prince Andrew's bizarre claims that he didn't sweat and had a Pizza Express alibi.
Four days after last year's Newsnight interview, the Duke said in a statement he was "willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required".
But Geoffrey Berman, who is leading the Epstein inquiry, told reporters in March: "Contrary to Prince Andrew's very public offer to co-operate with our investigation into Epstein's co-conspirators, an offer that was conveyed via press release, Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary co-operation and our office is considering its options."
Giuffre also said in an interview with BBC Panoramashe was left "horrified and ashamed" after an alleged sexual encounter with Andrew in London in 2001. She said the Prince knew what had happened and urged him to come clean about the incident.
– With wires