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Prince Andrew and the FBI were involved in a furious war of words Tuesday, after he denied claims made by the U.S. attorney for Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, that he has refused to cooperate with American authorities investigating Jeffrey Epstein’s alleged sexual abuse.
Andrew said no request had been received, and he was ready to talk.
However a spokesperson for Berman’s office told The Daily Beast they stood by the prosecutor’s comments, specifically the claim that they had “made several attempts to contact” Andrew’s representatives.
On Monday, Berman called out Andrew for giving “zero co-operation” to the investigation into Epstein at a press conference held outside Epstein's infamous front door.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” a source described as “close to” Andrew told The Telegraph, “The Duke is more than happy to talk to the FBI but he hasn’t been approached by them yet.
“He is angry about the way this is being portrayed and bewildered as to why this was said in New York. It seems certain people are jumping the gun.”
However law-enforcement sources were adamant that they “stood by” Berman’s remarks.
Berman said he was taking the rare step of calling Andrew out by name because Andrew himself, in his disastrous Newsnight interview, had said: “I am willing to help any appropriate law-enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”
While many observers saw Berman’s remarks as a desperate (and likely unsuccessful) attempt to shame Prince Andrew into living up to his earlier vow, Duncan Levin, a former federal and New York state prosecutor in the Manhattan DA’s office, saw something else: evidence of the authorities’ determination to leave no stone unturned as they go after the rich and powerful global network which Epstein cultivated.
Levin, who is now a managing partner at Tucker Levin, PLLC, told The Daily Beast that while it was “highly unusual for a prosecutor to make a public statement about a witness’s reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement” there is “nothing usual about this case, in any way. Prince Andrew is not your typical witness, by any stretch of the imagination.”
Levin says that while U.S. law enforcement “have no way of forcing Prince Andrew to testify, or to co-operate in their probe” to read Berman’s actions as only an expression of frustration would be a mistake.
It is that, to be sure, but he also saw it as evidence of a steely determination to collar some of Epstein’s powerful pals.
“They are doggedly pursuing every angle in this case. Now, why is that unusual? Because the defendant is dead. Usually that is the end of a case. But they clearly are digging in to this case and not letting go.
“This is a case that is going to be investigated until there is no investigation left to be done. They are turning over every single rock. They are trying to do everything they can to bring some measure of justice to the victims of Jeffrey Epstein. I think this signals how serious U.S. law enforcement is. They will pursue every single angle and put as much pressure on witnesses as possible—including members of the Royal Family.”
But what can this pressure really achieve?
“A lot of hinges on what Prince Andrew knows. He may know just enough to land himself in some trouble.
“I think the clear hunch of U.S. law enforcement, is that he knows more than he is letting on. Maybe he was involved. But I don’t expect to see a Rolls Royce turning up [at the prosecutor’s office] any time soon.”
In the U.K., Berman’s shocking statement was initially greeted with a stony silence from official Palace channels.
Even Andrea’s wife and stalwart defender, Sarah Ferguson, fell silent on Twitter, and sources at the Palace would only tell The Daily Beast two things—that Prince Andrew’s legal team were looking at the claims and that they wouldn’t be saying anything more about the issue, ever.
Mark Stephens, an international law expert at law firm Howard Kennedy, said that Andrew has little to fear other than public opprobrium if he keeps his mouth shut and chooses his vacation spots with care.
As a simple matter of legal fact, Andrew is not legally compelled to do anything, Stephens says. “If he is a suspect, then he is entitled to the right to silence. If they want to talk to him as a witness, that’s voluntary. If you witness a crime you don’t have to report it to the police and you don’t have to give evidence.”
Stephens says that while the Americans could try, through a procedure called mutual legal assistance, to remotely subpoena him, he could simply ignore the request.
“Layer on top of that, that he also has the benefit of immunity, which applies to all princes, potentates and prime ministers,” adds Stephens. “As a consequence of that, both the civil lawyers and the DA know they can’t get him other than voluntarily. So, what we saw yesterday, was a piece of high drama, one might even say high theatre.
“If you were his lawyer, you would say ‘You have done one car crash interview with Emily Maitlis—it would be even more ill-advised to do another car crash interview with the Feds under oath.’”
So is this a legal problem or a PR problem for the beleaguered prince?
“Oh, it is clearly both,” says Stephens. “There are two swords of Damocles hanging above his head, but the question is which sword of Damocles is more dangerous, and I suspect it is the legal one.”
Andrew’s fightback on Tuesday suggests that maybe he feels the opposite to be the case.