Ghislaine Maxwell arrest: Can Prince Andrew be forced to testify in the US?

Prosecutors say they have struggled to get Duke of York’s cooperation in connection with sex trafficking case

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 03 July 2020 01:19 BST
Prince Andrew made three offers of help to US authorities over Epstein, say lawyers

The arrest of Jeffrey Epstein‘s confidante Ghislaine Maxwell has renewed questions over Prince Andrew‘s potential cooperation with law enforcement – or his extradition – in connection with an alleged sex trafficking ring involving young girls.

Ms Maxwell, a British socialite, was alleged to have recruited, groomed and travelled with young girls who were raped by Epstein and his associates, according to prosecutors in New York. She was arrested nearly a year after Epstein allegedly killed himself in jail while awaiting trial on federal sex trafficking charges.

The Duke of York has previously been targetted by former US attorney Geoffrey Berman – who was recently and controversially removed from his post by US attorney general William Barr – over allegations that Andrew has refused to cooperate in the case.

On Thursday, acting US attorney Audrey Strauss appeared to seek his cooperation following Ms Maxwell’s arrest.

“We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk to us,” Ms Strauss said. “We would like to have the benefit of his statement.”

While under no legal obligation to testify, Andrew – who has previously announced his willingness to cooperate, while the US attorney’s office has said he has “shut the door” in cooperating with law enforcement – could be deposed with the aid of legal officials in the UK.

Asked whether Andrew intends to submit a statement following the US attorney’s remarks, a source close to the Duke’s working group told The Independent that “the Duke’s team remains bewildered given that we have twice communicated with the DOJ [Department of Justice] in the last month, and to date, we have had no response”.

But if a subpoena is issued for his testimony in the US, he’s not legally obligated to comply, unless he happens to be in the US at the time.

Last month, Justice Department officials sought a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the UK to coordinate Andrew’s deposition, although its status is unclear, following reports that British authorities have stymied legal assistance efforts with the US over concerns about the death penalty.

The Evidence (Proceedings in Other Jurisdictions) Act 1975 also stipulates that “a person shall not be compelled ... to give any evidence if his doing so would be prejudicial to the security of the United Kingdom”.

Public backlash following a BBC Newsnight interview last year in which Andrew defended his relationship to Epstein prompted his withdrawal from public duties.

In January, prosecutors told The Independent that the office sought an interview with Andrew but he had not offered any cooperation, and that the office was working in close coordination with the FBI to get him to speak with authorities.

The office could not comment about the timelines of their correspondence and when they last spoke with his representatives. Previously, the prince said he would cooperate “if required”.

Andrew has repeatedly denied the accusations levelled at him, most powerfully by Virginia Giuffre, who has claimed she was trafficked by the disgraced late US financier, and forced to have sex with his friends – including the British prince – when she was 17 years old. She said the assaults took place in London, New York and Epstein’s private island in the US Virgin Islands.

In March, then-US attorney Berman said that “contrary to Prince Andrew’s very public offer to cooperate 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 cooperation”.

The office was ”considering its options” in pursuing the case.

In June, Andrew’s lawyers said they offered to assist the Justice Department three times.

Ms Maxwell has been charged with “enticing a minor to travel to engage in criminal sexual activity, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit both of those offences, and perjury in connection with a sworn deposition,” prosecutors with the US Attorney’s office in New York announced.

The Indictment alleges that Ms Maxwell conspired with Epstein in the 1990s to exploit girls as young as 14 by travelling with them ”for the purpose of engaging in illegal sex acts”.

Ms Maxwell “played a critical role in the grooming and abuse of minor victims” across the US, including New York, Florida and New Mexico, prosecutors allege.

She also is accused ot making several false statements in sworn depositions in 2016.

Ms Strauss alleges that Ms Maxwell “enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, and then delivered them into the trap that she and Jeffrey Epstein had set”.

“She pretended to be a woman they could trust,” she announced on Thursday. “All the while, she was setting them up to be abused sexually by Epstein and, in some cases, Maxwell herself.”

Ms Maxwell faces up to 35 years in prison, if convicted.

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