From Russell Bruce, our (occasional) Royal Correspondent
Another Palace Cock-up ? Possibly quite literally, if a widely-reported motion to a Florida court is found to have any substance.
The Florida case, details of which were revealed by the Guardian yesterday and followed up worldwide, includes a motion lodged by lawyers acting for four women who claim they were used as underage ‘sex slaves’ by Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted sex offender and multi-millionaire investment banker.
The “royal” named in the papers is Prince Andrew, described by the Daily Mail Online as a ‘former friend’ of Jeffrey Epstein, who was convicted in 2008 and served 13 months of an 18 month sentence following a plea bargain in a related case.
Now lawyers for the four women argue their rights, as victims, were not taken into account when the plea bargain was negotiated.
The Mail Online published a picture of Prince Andrew with Jeffrey Epstein, taken in New York in 2011. Prince Andrew was “relieved” of his controversial UK trade ambassador role in 2011, reputedly over his contact with Epstein and other controversial figures. Why the Prince chose to maintain contact and be seen in public with a convicted sex offender as recently as 2011 does seem unwise.
Buckingham Palace took an unprecedented decision to respond to The Guardian’s story with a statement denying that Andrew had any connection to the women’s claims.
The Guardian had been told originally that the Royal household would “never comment on an ongoing legal matter”.
The Palace statement said: “This relates to long-running and ongoing civil proceedings in the United States to which the Duke of York is not a party. As such we would not comment in detail. However, for the avoidance of doubt, any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue.”
First, some history. The FBI started to investigate Epstein in 2006, and according to the Guardian, Federal Prosecutors had identified 40 of Epstein’s young victims by the following year.
In 2008 following legal arguments, and allegedly on the advice of an Epstein friend, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a plea bargain was arranged. He pleaded guilty to a single ‘minor offence’ of soliciting sex with a minor – a 14 year old girl. As a result, the federal case was dropped.
Last July, lawyers acting for two of the victims succeeded in arguments to obtain access to the plea bargaining papers. The new submission to the Florida court is on behalf of two further victims and one of these – identified only as “Jane Doe 3” – has made accusations involving Prince Andrew and others.
Jane Doe 3, whose identity the Guardian says it knows but has agreed to keep anonymous, claims her contact with Epstein started when she was 15, and that she was approached by Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late and unlamented publishing fraudster Robert Maxwell.
The Guardian reports: The motion alleges that Maxwell “was one of the main women whom Epstein used to procure under-aged girls for sexual activities”. With Maxwell’s assistance, the document alleges, Epstein converted the girl into a “sex slave”, repeatedly abusing her in his private jet or his lavish residences in New York, New Mexico, Florida and the US Virgin Islands.
The motion further argues that Maxwell was a co-conspirator and also participated in the abuse and “had direct connections to other powerful individuals with whom she could connect Epstein”.
Enter stage left Prince Andrew. “The document lists three locations where the woman alleges she was forced to have sexual relations with Prince Andrew: Maxwell’s London apartment, Epstein’s private Caribbean island in what was allegedly “an orgy with numerous other under-aged girls”, and an undisclosed location in New York.”
The Guardian report concludes: ”The woman’s lawyers allege in their motion that, in addition to facilitating her alleged encounters with the prince and Dershowitz, Epstein trafficked her to “many other powerful men, including numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well-known prime minister, and other world leaders”.
Professor Dershowitz – famous as the defence attorney in the O.J. Simpson murder trial – has denied any involvement in underage sexual activities in an interview with Politico Magazine.
I will not speculate on who these other important people might be, but another interesting part of the court motion reads:
“One clear example is Request for Production No. 8, which seeks documents regarding Epstein’s lobbying efforts to persuade the Government to give him a more favorable plea arrangement and/or non-prosecution agreement, including efforts on his behalf by Prince Andrew and former Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz. Jane Doe #1 and Jane Doe #2 have alleged these materials are needed to prove their allegations that, after Epstein signed the non-prosecution agreement, his performance was delayed while he used his significant social and political connections to lobby the Justice Department to obtain a more favorable plea deal. See, e.g., DE 225 at 7-8 (discussing DE 48 at 16-18). Jane Doe #3 has directly person knowledge of Epstein’s connection with some of these powerful people and thus how Epstein might have used them to secure favorable treatment.”
So not just a case of who you know, but maybe also what you know about them?
Buckingham Palace’s reactive statement said little in reality, but the last sentence is very specific:
“However, for the avoidance of doubt, any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue.”
The Palace is neither confirming nor denying that Andrew had sex with Jane Doe 3.
The age of consent in Florida is 18. Jane Doe 3, the Independent reports, was understood to be 17 at the time of the alleged encounters.
Contrary to speculation, nowhere in the motion to the court does it suggest the wandering Prince Andrew forced her to have sex with him. The allegation is that Epstein forced her to have sex with important people including Prince Andrew.
Whether the allegation has any substance, only time will tell.