Prince Andrew's Friendship with Jeffrey Epstein

Prince Andrew is in danger of losing his trade representative position over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Lisa Hilton on the prince's fight—and his other pals.

03.09.11 1:09 AM ET

The sans-culottes are muttering. At least, that is, those members of the British establishment who haven't already left their culottes in the back of Saif Gaddafi's car. Prince Andrew, Duke of York, the U.K. Special Representative for International Trade and Investment since 2001, is, according to Labour MP Chris Bryant, "a national embarrassment" who ought to hand over his BA executive clubcard and get back to the golf links. Questions have been asked in the House. After communications with Sir John Cunliffe, the senior Conservative adviser on overseas trade, the duke now faces a "tasking review" that may see his role considerably and humiliatingly reduced.

The Prince and The Pedophile: 6 Degrees Of Jeffrey Epstein

While "Randy Andy's" antics with wannabe "It Girls" have long been the stuff of prurient tabloid fodder, it is his cretinously ill-advised choice of associates that is causing the present rumpus. The duke has been a frequent guest at the Florida residence of Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire who served a 18-month jail term after pleading guilty to soliciting a prostitute. More recently Virginia Roberts, a masseuse, alleged sexual encounters with Epstein and his friends (but not the prince) when she was 17-years-old. The British Mail on Sunday reports the FBI is re-opening the Epstein case. Though no allegations of direct impropriety have been made against him, the duke did receive a massage at Epstein's home 10 years ago, and was photographed with him as recently as December 2010. His impecunious ex-wife, Sarah Duchess of York, who was recently caught out in a cash-for-meetings scandal when she claimed she could broker encounters with her former husband for a fee, accepted £15,000 from Epstein to pay off debts, apparently at the duke's instigation.

Prince Andrew, nicknamed Air Miles Andy because of his lavish use of publicly funded travel, is providing a blessed distraction from the prospect of quite so many worthies being caught with their hands in Libya PLC's till, but surprisingly no one seems the least bit grateful. Both Prime Minster David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague have expressed their continued confidence in the duke, yet elsewhere in the Tory ranks the tumbrils are rumbling about whether he should resign his post as U.K. Special Representative for International Trade and Investment.

If a diplomatic solution can be found for Silvio Berlusconi, then Air Miles Andy and his ironing board may well survive to jaunt another day.

Left to right: Jeffrey Epstein and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. (Photo: Gregory P. Mango / Splash News; Steve Parsons, PA / AP Photo)

Prince Andrew may not have been an obvious choice as a figurehead for entrepreneurship—after all he comes from a family that traditionally refuses to carry money; but air miles aside, his position has until recently remained relatively uncontroversial. His official task is to promote U.K. business internationally, market the U.K. to potential investors and build relationships in support of U.K. business interests. Numerous businesses, including Shell, have provided positive reports as to the benefit of a royal endorsement and whilst die-hard republicans may not like it, more than 500 overseas companies last year alone were happy enough to be sprinkled with a little monarchical magic dust.

Glad-handing and listening to dreary speeches might not be everyone's idea of hard work, but a glance at the UKTI Annual Review suggests the prince certainly went about it with gusto. For the financial year ending 2010, he met over 3,000 companies and attended 25 business receptions, whilst of a total of 757 official engagements, 550 were conducted in his capacity as Special Representative. Despite the complaints in the British press that the prince's overseas trips are a form of taxpayer-funded freeloading, his role is unpaid and the cost of his official travel requirements are met by Grant in Aid and UKTI funds, with a small grant from the Treasury for entertaining, whilst the direct costs of his office are borne privately by himself and the queen. MP Mike Gapes suggests that the duke's unelected status and lack of accountability render him "out of date," but he has attempted to move with the times—taking advice from consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers and producing some lovely colored graphs to illustrate his efficiency.

The dubious associates, however, have been selected with an almost comic incompetence. There's Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of the president of Kazakhstan, who purchased the duke's Sunninghill home for an inflated price of £15 million; Tarek Kaituni, a convicted gun-smuggler; and Sakher el-Materi, the son of deposed Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who attended a reception at Buckingham Palace hosted by the duke three months before the collapse of the Tunisian government, along with more than 12 British business executives hoping to win business in the country. The scholar and philanthropist Saif Gaddafi completes the merry band. WikiLeaks has revealed that Tatiana Gfoeller, the U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan claimed the duke had criticized a Serious Fraud Office investigation into an arms deal between BAE and Saudi Arabia, markedly overstepping his brief, whilst Simon Wilson, the deputy head of the U.K. mission to Bahrain between 2001 and 2005, has stated that the duke was "more commonly known among the British diplomatic community in the Gulf as HBH—His Buffoon Highness." Even the usually pro-royal Daily Telegraph has recently described the duke as "lonely and misguided".

Nevertheless, the weaknesses of the duke's position may yet prove his strength. His royal status precludes him from appearing before government select committees and questions from MPs to ministers in the House of Commons have provoked rebukes from the speaker. Since his position is voluntary, he can to a certain extent dictate its terms and whilst his actions appear to have been grossly misguided, he has done nothing illegal. Shaking hands with billionaires who consort with minors is hardly a novelty in European politics; if a diplomatic solution can be found for Silvio Berlusconi, then Air Miles Andy and his ironing board may well survive to jaunt another day.

Correction: An initial version of this story incorrectly reported Epstein was convicted of soliciting multiple prostitutes.

Lisa Hilton is the critically acclaimed author of Athenais: The Real Queen of France and Mistress Peachum's Pleasure. She was educated at Oxford University, and lives in London.