Lawyers for Britain's Prince Andrew hit back at claims he was not cooperating with US prosecutors investigating the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, suggesting they were seeking publicity rather than his help.
US investigators want to interview Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son, about his friendship with Epstein – who was found dead in prison last year while awaiting charges of trafficking minors – as part of their inquiry into possible co-conspirators.
US Attorney General William Barr said on Monday (local time) there were no plans to extradite Andrew.
Asked during a Fox News interview whether the United States has officially asked Britain to hand over Prince Andrew, also known as the Duke of York, Mr 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 Prince Andrew would be extradited, Mr Barr said: "No."
The Duke of York has publicly stated he will cooperate with any "appropriate law enforcement agency". But in March, Manhattan-based US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the prince had "shut the door on voluntary cooperation and our office is considering its options".
In a statement, Andrew's lawyers said the prince had offered his help to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) three times this year.
"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," Andrew's lawyers Blackfords said.
"In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered," the statement said.
The lawyers said the DOJ had only requested Andrew's help on January 2, and had stated he had never been a target of their investigation and they merely wanted his cooperation.
They said statements by Mr Berman that Andrew had given "zero cooperation" were "inaccurate and should not have been made".
Following the Duke of York’s response, Mr Berman issued a statement saying: “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 informed us unequivocally – thought 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.”
Britain's Sun newspaper reported the DOJ had sent British authorities a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) request, used in criminal investigations to gather material from other states which cannot readily be obtained on a police cooperation basis.
A US law enforcement official, who has direct knowledge of the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity, said such a request had been submitted.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment and Britain's Home Office (interior ministry) said it did not comment on the existence of any MLAT requests. Buckingham Palace is not commenting on the legal case.
If the MLAT request is granted, US prosecutors could ask for Andrew, who stepped down from public duties because of the furore over his links to Epstein, to voluntarily attend an interview to give a statement or potentially force him to attend a court to provide evidence under oath.
"Any pursuit of an application for mutual legal assistance would be disappointing, since the Duke of York is not a target of the DOJ investigation and has recently repeated his willingness to provide a witness statement," Blackfords' statement said.
A US Federal Bureau of Investigation probe is focusing on British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, a long-time associate of Epstein's, and others who facilitated his alleged trafficking of underage girls, law enforcement sources told Reuters in December.
Maxwell, whose whereabouts are currently unknown, has denied the allegations against her.
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