Published 9:14 AM EDT Jul 11, 2019
In all the news coverage of the latest arrest of American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein on federal sex-trafficking charges, one name keeps coming up with little explanation: Prince Andrew.
So what does the Duke of York – the beloved second son of Queen Elizabeth II, father of her granddaughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie – have to do with a convicted sex offender who's in the dock in federal court in New York on two sex-trafficking charges involving girls as young as 14 and dating to 2002-2005?
It's a convoluted story but this is the bottom line: The current charges against Epstein do not involve Prince Andrew in any way. (Epstein, 66, pleaded not guilty on Monday.)
Nevertheless, Andrew was a friend of Epstein, his picture with the disgraced financier has once again started turning up on social media, and the British media, never fans of the man they call "Randy Andy" and "Air Miles Andy," have gleefully used the Epstein case to remind Brits of the scandal that nearly ruined Andrew, 59, more than four years ago.
Here's the background to the Andrew-Epstein connection:
How does Prince Andrew know Jeffrey Epstein?
According to British media reports, they've been friends for more than two decades. Their relationship is often cited as evidence of Andrew's alleged poor judgment, and likely contributed in 2011 to the end of Andrew’s role as a British trade envoy, a job he loved and had held for about 10 years.
The Guardian newspaper reports that Andrew met Epstein in the 1990s after being introduced by Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late British media mogul Robert Maxwell. She was Epstein's girlfriend and employee at the time and has been implicated in Epstein's alleged trafficking activities as one of his supposed "recruiters."
In 2011, Andrew's ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, to whom he is still close, acknowledged that Epstein had loaned her money to pay off her debts during one of her past financial crises.
According to The Telegraph, she apologized for a "gigantic error of judgment."
"I personally, on behalf of myself, deeply regret that Jeffrey Epstein became involved in any way with me. I abhor pedophilia and any sexual abuse of children and know that this was a gigantic error of judgment on my behalf," she said in a statement at the time.
What is the alleged new link between Andrew and Epstein?
It is unclear so far who the accusers are in the charges unveiled Monday by the U.S. Attorney's office in the Southern District of New York, or even how many accusers there are. Nor is it clear whether these are the same accusers involved in the Florida sex-crimes case in which Epstein was convicted in 2008 after a secret plea deal with the U.S. Attorney's office in Florida, later assailed as an illegal "sweetheart" deal.
But we know the name of one accuser: Virginia Roberts Giuffre, 35, an American who now lives in Australia. In early 2015, she accused Epstein and his employees of paying her, when she was 17, to sexually service Epstein, Prince Andrew, Harvard lawyer Alan Dershowitz (then one of Epstein's lawyers), and others of Epstein's rich friends.
"Alan Dershowitz vehemently denied the allegations made against him by Virginia Giuffre since day one, and continues to stand by his position that they are categorically false,” Dershowitz's lawyer, Arthur Aidala, told USA TODAY in an emailed statement on Wednesday.
Andrew also forcefully denied her allegation at the time but there is at least one picture of him with her, which has rattled around the internet for years.
Giuffre's current attorney is superlawyer David Boies, recently a lawyer for shamed Hollywood producer and accused sex predator Harvey Weinstein. In 2017, Boies ended up apologizing for signing a contract with a private investigation firm to dig up dirt on Weinstein's accusers to help block the New York Times' blockbuster reporting on Weinstein's alleged sexual misconduct.
How did these allegations come to light?
Giuffre, then known as Virginia Roberts, made these claims, denied emphatically by Andrew, Buckingham Palace and Dershowitz, in court documents filed in December 2014 when she was seeking to join a lawsuit filed in Florida against Epstein.
However, the judge in the case ruled in April 2015 that her claims regarding Andrew and Dershowitz were “immaterial and impertinent” to her legal argument about joining the lawsuit. He ordered that her claims be struck from the record and denied her attempt to join the suit.
“At this juncture in the proceedings, these lurid details are unnecessary,” Judge Kenneth Marra wrote in his order. “These unnecessary details shall be stricken.”
What did Prince Andrew and the palace say at the time?
In a rare move, Buckingham Palace issued three increasingly emphatic statements in early January 2015 denying that Andrew had sex with Giuffre at any time or with anyone else underage.
And in an even rarer move, a few weeks later Andrew himself issued a denial when he appeared for his annual visit to the big-wig confab at Davos, Switzerland, where he hosts a British trade reception.
Reporters who were there said Andrew spoke to a couple hundred people in a room so quiet "you could hear a pin drop."
"I just wish to reiterate and to reaffirm the statements which have already been made on my behalf by Buckingham Palace," Andrew said, according to The Associated Press. He went on to say: "My focus is on my work."
As a general rule, the British royals do not personally go public to denounce accusations the way Americans routinely do.
Most of the time, palace spokespeople don't even bother to issue denials about the deluge of allegations, real, ridiculous or imagined, that fall on the royals every week. Just ask the media staffers for the former Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex, about that.
But this was different: It was a potentially ruinous allegation, worse than anything else that has been thrown at the royals, including Andrew, over the years.
He cut short a Swiss ski vacation and returned to London for consultations with royal officials. He was reported to have told the queen that he was innocent. And his ex-wife, Sarah, jumped to defend him while holidaying at their Swiss chalet a few days after the allegations surfaced.
"He is the greatest man there is. It was the finest moment of my life in 1986 when I married him," she told reporters. "He is a great man, the best man in the world."
What was Giuffre's reaction to Epstein's arrest?
At a press conference outside the courthouse, attorney Sigrid McCawley read a statement from Giuffre and another accuser, Sarah Ransome, also represented by Boies. They called the New York case “a step in the right direction.”
“It is time for Jeffrey Epstein and those who participated and enabled his sex crimes to be brought to true justice,” Giuffre said.
Boies also issued a statement, telling The Daily Beast the arrest was "a long time coming."
“It is an important step towards getting justice for the many victims of Mr. Epstein’s sex-trafficking enterprise," Bois said. “We hope that prosecutors will not stop with Mr. Epstein because there were many other people who participated with him and made the sex trafficking possible."
Could federal prosecutors in New York indict Prince Andrew in the Epstein case?
Not likely. Lawyers dismiss the possibility that Andrew could face criminal charges in the U.S., partly because of the statute of limitations and partly because he likely would have immunity as a foreign royal.