Lawyers for Britain's Prince Andrew on Monday denied claims he has refused to cooperate with U.S. prosecutors in a probe of Jeffrey Epstein, his dead sex criminal friend.
News reports revealed that those prosecutors have formally requested through the United Kingdom an interview with Queen Elizabeth II's second son.
Andrew's lawyers issued a statement saying that the Duke of York has three times so far this year offered to assist the U.S. Department of Justice with its ongoing investigation of the wealthy investor Epstein's alleged sex trafficking and serial abuse of underage girls.
That contradicts statements by Geoffrey Berman, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, who has said several times that Andrew has not cooperated as promised with investigators in their probe of Epstein, who killed himself last year while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
Berman in a statement issued later Monday disputed the lawyers' claim.
"Today, Prince Andrew yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to cooperate with the investigation into Epstein," Berman said, "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 ago informed us unequivocally – through 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," Berman said.
Andrew's lawyers, Clare Montgomery and Stephen Ferguson, said that Justice Department officials had given them "unequivocal assurance" that their discussions with investigators would remain confidential.
But they suggested that Berman's prior public statements on the case were "seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered."
And lawyers said that Andrew has been told by the DOJ that he is not, nor ever was, a "target" of the criminal probe.
"Far from our client acting above the law, as has been implied by press briefings in the U.S., he is being treated by a lower standard than might reasonably be expected for any other citizen," Andrew's lawyers said.
Earlier Monday, NBC News reported that Berman's office had formally sought through the British government to question Andrew in the probe, which is eyeing possible conspirators of Epstein, who was also a former friend of Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton.
That request was made under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.
Andrew's lawyers said, "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."
"It is hoped that this third offer has not been the cause of the most recent leak about the Duke of York," the lawyers said.
Spokesmen for the Justice Department and Berman's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.
But U.S. Attorney General William Barr in an interview with Fox News set to air on Monday evening said that Andrew would not be extradited to the U.S. for any interview, according to a report by Reuters.
Epstein, 66, pleaded guilty to Florida state crimes in 2008 that included soliciting sex from an underage girl and served 13 months in a Florida jail, albeit much of that time free on work release.
Last summer, Epstein was charged and arrested on federal child sex trafficking charges after Berman's office accused him of sexually abusing dozens of underage girls at his luxurious properties on the Upper East Side and in Florida.
He hanged himself in a Manhattan federal jail last August.
Andrew socialized for years with Epstein, a multi-millionaire who had an obsession with young women and underage girls.
The duke, who was a friend of Epstein's former girlfriend and alleged procurer, Ghislaine Maxwell, has been accused by one of Epstein's alleged victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, of having sex with her after she was told to do so by Maxwell at age 17.
Andrew claims he does not remember ever meeting Giuffre despite a photograph showing him grinning while posing with her as he held the then-girl's waist. Maxwell is seen in the background of that photo.
Months after Epstein's death, Andrew sparked outrage with a disastrous interview with the BBC about his relationship with Epstein.
In the interview, Andrew denied having sex with Giuffre and said he was incapable of sweating, as Giuffre described him doing when they were dancing at a London nightclub.
In the same interview, Andrew justified his decision to stay at Epstein's house for four days during a 2010 visit to end their friendship by saying it was "a convenient place to stay."
After backlash to his interview, Andrew announced that he was stepping back from his official public duties "for the foreseeable future."
Andrew's lawyers, in their statement Monday, said that while they have refrained from commenting on the case in the past, "in view of misleading media briefings, we owe it to our client to issue this
"As the public record indicates the [Department of Justice] has been actively investigating Mr. Epstein and other targets for more than 16 years, yet the first time they requested the Duke's help was on 2 January 2020," the lawyers said.
"Importantly, the DOJ advised us that the Duke is not and has never been a 'target' of their criminal investigations into Epstein and that they sought his confidential, voluntary cooperation," the lawyers said.
"In the course of these discussions, we asked the DOJ to confirm that our co-operation and any interview arrangements would remain confidential, in accordance with the ordinary rules that apply to voluntary co-operation with the DOJ. We were given an unequivocal assurance that our discussions and the interview process would remain confidential."
"The Duke of York has on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the DOJ. 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," the statement said.
"In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered. On 27th January 2020, Mr. Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, chose to make a public statement about the Duke. This led to worldwide media reports that there had been 'a wall of silence' and that there had been 'zero co-operation' by the Duke. These statements were inaccurate, and they should not have been made," it added.
"On 9th March 2020, Mr. Berman made further public statements saying that the Duke had
'completely shut the door' on cooperating with the U.S. investigation and that they are now 'considering' further options. Again, the first statement was inaccurate and should not have been made."
The statement went on to say, "It is a matter of regret that the DOJ has seen fit to breach its own rules of confidentiality, not least as they are designed to encourage witness cooperation. Far from our client acting above the law, as has been implied by press briefings in the U.S., he is being treated by a lower standard than might reasonably be expected for any other citizen," the lawyers added.
"Further, those same breaches of confidentiality by the DOJ have given the global media — and, therefore the worldwide audience — an entirely misleading account of our discussions with them."