U.S. prosecutors accused Britain's Prince Andrew on Monday of evading their efforts to question him over his contacts with the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, but lawyers for the prince accused them of seeking publicity rather than his help.
U.S. investigators want to interview Andrew, Queen Elizabeth's second son, about his friendship with Epstein - who was awaiting trial on charges of trafficking minors when he died last August in a New York City federal prison - as part of their inquiry into possible co-conspirators.
The Manhattan-based federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman, said Andrew had "sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to cooperate" but had given no interview to federal authorities and had repeatedly declined such requests.
Berman was responding to a report by Britain's Sun newspaper, confirmed to Reuters by a U.S. law enforcement official, that U.S. authorities investigating Epstein's life and death had sent the British government a formal request, known as a mutual legal assistance treaty (MLAT) submission, asking for access to the prince.
The MLAT is a procedure used in criminal investigations to gather material from foreign countries which cannot readily be obtained on a police cooperation basis.
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 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," Berman's office said in a statement.
Earlier on Monday, Andrew's lawyers said in a statement following the Sun article that the prince, whose official title is the Duke of York, had offered his help to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) three times this year.
"Unfortunately, the DOJ has reacted ... 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," they said in a statement.
Andrew has publicly stated he will cooperate with any "appropriate law enforcement agency". But in March, Berman said the prince had "shut the door on voluntary cooperation and our office is considering its options".
In answer to a question U.S. Attorney General William Barr told Fox News in an interview on Monday there were no plans to extradite Andrew.
"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," he said.
If the MLAT request is granted, U.S. 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," the statement from the prince's lawyers said.
A U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation probe is focusing on British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime 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.
An official U.S. medical examiner last year ruled Epstein's death a suicide, though a pathologist hired by Epstein’s brother suggested evidence indicated he might have been strangled.