Britain's Prince Andrew has said he does not remember meeting Virginia Roberts, one of disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein's alleged victims, who says she was forced to have sex with the royal.
But Andrew admits in an interview with the BBC due to be broadcast on Saturday that his decision to remain friends with Epstein after he was convicted of soliciting prostitution from a minor in 2008 was a serious error of judgement.
"I have no recollection of ever meeting this lady, none whatsoever," Andrew told BBC interviewer Emily Maitlis, according to extracts from "Prince Andrew and the Epstein Scandal" released ahead of the program's broadcast.
Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II and eighth in line to the throne, has been heavily criticized over his links to multimillionaire Epstein, who died in custody in the US in August.
A photograph apparently showing Andrew with his arm around then 17-year-old Roberts, now Giuffre, and with Epstein's friend Ghislaine Maxwell standing in the background, has been widely published. Supporters of Andrew, however, have disputed its authenticity.
Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to procuring a girl under the age of 18 for prostitution and served 13 months in US prison before being released on probation.
Pressed in the interview over the fact that he remained friends with Epstein even after his conviction, Andrew, 59, admitted that he regretted that decision.
"I stayed with him and that's... that's... that's the bit that... that... that, as it were, I kick myself for on a daily basis," the prince said.
"Because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the royal family and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that," he told Maitlis of the BBC's Newsnight program.
- 'Sex slave' claim -
Epstein, 66, who was arrested in New York in July on charges of trafficking underage girls for sex, was found dead in his New York jail cell on August 10 while awaiting trial over abuses involving girls at his Palm Beach home and on his private island in the Caribbean.
A coroner ruled that he committed suicide by hanging.
Over the years, the financier hobnobbed with politicians, socialites and celebrities, including Donald Trump before he was president, and Bill Clinton.
In August, Giuffre, who says she was abused by Epstein for years and farmed out to his wealthy friends including Andrew, said "the reckoning must not end, it must continue".
Giuffre has said she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew three times, an allegation he has strongly denied.
"He knows exactly what he's done and I hope he comes clean about it," she told reporters after a US hearing on August 27 at which other alleged victims of Epstein including also described how they were abused.
Giuffre previously testified that she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew in London when she was 17. She said she had sex with him again in New York and on Epstein's private island in the Caribbean.
But the allegations were struck from the record by a US judge in 2015, who said the "lurid details" were not needed to decide a civil case concerning Epstein.
She has filed a lawsuit in the US accusing Epstein of using her as a "sex slave".
Buckingham Palace has strenuously denied the claims, calling them "false and without foundation".
The BBC interview is the first time that Andrew has addressed questions over the Epstein controversy.
In August, Buckingham Palace issued a statement after a video was released purporting to show Andrew at the home of Epstein in 2010.
"His Royal Highness deplores the exploitation of any human being and the suggestion he would condone, participate in or encourage any such behavior is abhorrent," the statement said.
© 2019 AFP