Prince Andrew has become embroiled in a war of words with US prosecutors investigating the disgraced financier and child sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Lawyers for the Duke of York issued a statement on Monday accusing the American investigators of misleading the public and breaching their own confidentiality rules in their handling of the inquiry.
Blackfords, the London-based criminal law specialists, alleged in a strongly worded two-page statement that the US Department of Justice (DoJ) had effectively rejected three offers of help volunteered by the prince this year.
The firm noted that the DoJ had “advised us that the duke is not and has never been a ‘target’ of their criminal investigations into Epstein” and that they had instead sought his confidential, voluntary cooperation.
Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, responded by publicly accusing Andrew of trying to “falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to co-operate” and said a request to schedule an interview had been repeatedly declined.
The Blackfords statement followed media reports that US authorities had formally requested the prince answer questions on the matter. On Monday the US attorney general, William Barr, stated there were no plans to extradite the prince.
Asked during a Fox News interview on Monday whether the US has officially asked Britain to hand over Andrew, Barr said: “I don’t think it’s a question of handing him over. I think it’s just a question of having him provide some evidence.” Asked if the prince would be extradited, Barr said “no”.
Epstein was found dead in a New York prison cell last year where he was being held on charges of sex-trafficking girls as young as 14. The prince had known the billionaire since 1999 and stayed at several of his residences.
Andrew has been accused of having sex with a young woman provided by Epstein, Virginia Giuffre, when she was 17 – a claim he categorically denies. In November the prince was interviewed by the Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis about his relationship with the disgraced financier.
His remarks sparked a public backlash, and a few days later Andrew issued a statement saying that he would “step back from public duties for the foreseeable future”.
The prince, who has always denied any wrongdoing, added: “I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein ... Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”
However, in January, Berman gave a public statement implying there had been “zero cooperation” with the investigation from Prince Andrew. In March, Berman claimed the duke had “completely shut the door” on cooperating with the US investigation.
On Monday, Blackfords hit back, saying in a statement: “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 cooperation. In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered.
“On 27 January 2020, Mr Geoffrey S Berman, the United States attorney for the southern district of New York, chose to make a public statement about the duke. This led to worldwide media reports that there had been ‘a wall of silence’ and that there had been ‘zero co-operation’ by the duke. These statements were inaccurate, and they should not have been made.
“On 9 March 2020, Mr Berman made further public statements saying that the duke had ‘completely shut the door’ on cooperating with the US investigation and that they are now ‘considering’ further options. Again, the first statement was inaccurate and should not have been made.”
The statement added: “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 cooperation. 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.”
Later on Monday, Berman issued his own public statement in response, saying: “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 offences 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.
“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.”
A Department of Justice spokesperson in the US said it “does not publicly comment on communications with foreign governments on investigative matters, including confirming or denying the very existence of such communications”.
Owen Bowcott is a former legal affairs correspondent and Ireland correspondent for the Guardian
Amy Walker is a former Guardian journalist who received the Scott Trust bursary in 2017