Bombshell move against Prince Andrew
The US has officially demanded Britain hand over Prince Andrew to be quizzed over his links to billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
In a bombshell move, the Department of Justice has formally told the UK the Duke of York is now caught up in a criminal probe for the first time.
Andrew, 60, has so far refused to be quizzed by New York prosecutors investigating Epstein's evil historic sex trafficking network but strongly denies any wrongdoing. Until now, it was thought he was only likely to be the target of action by Epstein's victims in the US civil courts.
One - Virginia Roberts Giuffre, now 36 - alleges she had sex with Andrew on three occasions between 2001 and 2002, twice while underage. However, Andrew denies this.
But now The Sun can reveal the US Department of Justice has dramatically upped the stakes. It has bypassed Buckingham Palace - instead filing a "mutual legal assistance" (MLA) request to the Home Office. MLA requests are only used in criminal cases under a legal treaty with the UK. It means Andrew, who "categorically denies" any wrongdoing, could now be forced to appear in a UK court as a witness within months.
The move also piles pressure on the Duke to give evidence - and on the UK Government to assist.
The Sun understands no decision on the explosive request has yet been made by British officials. And sources said it was unlikely Andrew would be aware of the MLA request at this stage because countries are legally obliged to keep them secret.
"It's a huge statement of intent from the US and it moves Andrew into the realms of a criminal investigation. It's also frankly a diplomatic nightmare," a source told the publication.
"The DoJ does not make a request of this nature lightly, especially one involving a senior member of the British royal family. "
It puts the UK government in a very difficult position - and the Duke of York even more so."
The Sun has learned the request was formally lodged by the DoJ last month under the terms of a 1994 MLA treaty. If granted, US prosecutors would have two options. The first, typically only used for witnesses to crimes, would see the Duke asked to voluntarily attend an interview and give a signed statement. Crucially, this would not be under oath.
But sources say angry American investigators - frustrated at what they see as a lack of co-operation from the Queen's son to date - have the power to pursue an explosive second route, which would see Andrew asked to attend London's City of Westminster Magistrates' Court to provide oral or written evidence on oath.
If he refused, the Duke could be forced to attend in person by summons, with DoJ lawyers able to quiz him.
Andrew, unlike the Queen, does not hold sovereign immunity from prosecution. But any evidence session could be held "in camera" - privately, with no press or public present.
He would still have the right to "take the Fifth" by staying silent to avoid self-incrimination. MLA requests filed to the UK in criminal matters are always dealt with by the Home Office.
They are rarely used in civil matters, but if they are, any request has to be filed to the Foreign Office instead.
American legal experts have already warned that any decision by Andrew to remain silent could badly backfire.
Last month, ex-federal prosecutor Evan T. Barr told a top US law journal: "While the Prince would retain the right to decline to testify under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the impact on his already diminished reputation would be considerable and an adverse inference could be drawn against him in the related civil litigations, leading to a possible default judgment."
CAREER IN RUINS
Andrew stepped down as a senior royal after his disastrous Newsnight interview last November. It aimed to clear the air, but the "car crash" exchange with BBC presenter Emily Maitlis instead has seen his career left in ruins.
During the interview, Andrew said he would help the US investigation if his "legal advice was to do so".
But in January, Geoffrey Berman, the US lawyer for the Southern District of New York leading the Epstein inquiry, said the Duke had "provided zero co-operation".
Two months later, Mr Berman said the Duke had "now completely shut the door on voluntary co-operation". And in a hint of what was to come, Mr Berman warned: "Our office is considering its options."
Andrew's aides hit back, insisting his lawyers had been in touch with prosecutors since the beginning of the year. Mr Berman's office admitted there had been "communications through his attorneys". But they said Andrew's lawyers had made it clear he was still "not willing to submit to an interview".
The deadlock led US legal experts to warn the Prince would face "significant pressure going forward to co-operate with the US authorities". Some even predicted the DoJ could eventually lodge an MLA request to question the Duke as a witness.
Andrew has admitted being friends with Epstein since 1999 after being introduced by socialite Ghislaine Maxwell. Epstein was a guest at Ghislaine's birthday party at Sandringham. He also attended Beatrice's 18th birthday party at Windsor Castle, just two months after a warrant was issued for his arrest for sexual assault of a minor.
Andrew and Epstein met on at least ten occasions and the Duke stayed over at Epstein's New York mansion, Palm Beach home and on a private island in the US Virgin Islands.
Alleged victim Virgina Roberts Giuffre says she was trafficked by Epstein to have sex with Andrew in London in 2001. She described Andrew as "sweating profusely" at Tramp nightclub before having sex at Ghislaine's Mayfair flat. Andrew later told Newsnight a "peculiar medical condition" meant he did not sweat. And he insisted he did not go clubbing, claiming he remembered because he had been at Woking Pizza Express earlier that day.
He claims he has no recollection of ever meeting Giuffre and sources close to the royal have even suggested a photo with his arm around Giuffre at Maxwell's flat could have been faked. Giuffre also alleges that Epstein paid her around $550 to have sex with Andrew at Epstein's New York mansion.
In evidence to a Florida court in 2015, she claimed to have had an orgy with Andrew and eight other girls at Epstein's private island in the US Virgin Islands. Epstein was jailed in Florida in 2008 after being convicted for procuring an underage girl for prostitution and soliciting a prostitute.
Just 18 months after his release from jail in 2010, Epstein gave the Duchess of York £15,000 (A$27,300) to pay off her debts. Andrew was pictured staying at the convicted sex offender's New York mansion for three nights later that year. He claimed he made the trip to end the friendship face-to-face, saying it was a "convenient place to stay".
Epstein, 66, was found dead in his cell last August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Five accusers want to give evidence about Andrew in US courts. Pre-trial witness subpoenas have been prepared for five cases and could be served on Andrew if he ever set foot in the US. Since stepping down as a senior royal, Prince Andrew has recruited his own legal and PR teams to fight the case.
He has reportedly hired Clare Montgomery QC, a top barrister who previously represented Chilean dictator General Pinochet. In the article for the respected New York Law Journal last month, Mr Barr predicted Andrew's lawyers would view his "safest approach is to hunker down in the UK".
And the top US lawyer warned: "As a result of his BBC interview, the Prince has 'locked himself in' to a version of events, including some highly specific alibis, that leave him little room to adapt should new evidence come to light.
"Thus, even if he does agree to testify before a grand jury or more likely participating in an informal proffer session, he risks possible perjury or false statement charges, not to mention likely leaks to the media.
"Notwithstanding the fact that the Prince is a member of a royal family that enjoys close ties with the United States, he lacks any formal diplomatic or sovereign immunity and is facing a prosecutor who has already shown a willingness to pursue high profile foreign leaders such as the former President of Venezuela."
In response to the new development in the case, the Home Office told The Sun: "As a matter of longstanding policy and practice, we neither confirm nor deny the existence of mutual legal assistance requests."
Originally published as Bombshell move against Prince Andrew