Prince Andrew's lawyers have been met with a scathing retort after they a released a statement following the US authorities bid to get the Duke of York to co-operate with its investigation into deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. On Monday, the Duke of York's legal team issued a statement rebuking claims Prince Andrew had refused to co-operate following the Department of Justice's (DOJ) request that the Duke assist with its probe into Epstein.
The statement from Blackfords, the law firm representing Prince Andrew, said the Duke had offered to co-operate with the DOJ's investigation on three occasions this year.
His legal team said: "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 co-operation.
"In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered."
The Duke's lawyers said they were given an "unequivocal assurance" by the US authorities their discussions and the interview process would remain confidential, but claimed this commitment was broken.
The statement also claimed the comments by Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who said the Duke had "shut the door" on voluntary co-operation was "inaccurate".
However, Berman, who is heading up the Epstein investigation has now hit back at Andrew's lawyers.
In reaction to today's statement he said the Duke of York has "yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to cooperate" although he "has repeatedly declined" requests to schedule an interview.
Mr Berman said in response to the Duke's lawyers' statement: "Today, Prince Andrew yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to co-operate 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 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 co-operating with the ongoing federal investigation, our doors remain open and we await word of when we should expect him."
Buckingham Palace refused to comment on Mr Berman's reaction.Prince Andrew's lawyers' statement in full
The statement from Blackfords lawyers regarding the Duke of York said: "In January 2020, Blackfords LLP and instructed counsel, Clare Montgomery QC and Stephen Ferguson, were commissioned to support HRH The Duke of York in his desire to provide cooperation to the US authorities regarding the victims of the late Jeffrey Epstein, should those authorities request his assistance.
"The working group is supported by Riverside Advisory on media relations.
"To date, we have chosen not to make any public statement regarding our discussions with the US Department of Justice (DOJ).
"Our commitment to confidentiality is not only regarded as best practice in the UK but is also intended to respect the DOJ's commitment to confidentiality, as set out in its own rules as they apply to discussions with potential witnesses."
Blackfords hit back at "misleading media briefings" and said it sought to clarify the Duke of York's planned co-operation.
The statement added: "However, in view of misleading media briefings, we owe it to our client to issue this clarifying statement.
"As the public record indicates the DOJ 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 2nd January 2020."
The statement sought to highlight Prince Andrew is not a target of the DOJ's criminal investigations.
The statement added: "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.
"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 co-operation.
"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.
"On 9th March 2020, Mr Berman made further public statements saying that the Duke had ‘completely shut the door' on co-operating with the US investigation and that they are now ‘considering' further options.
"Again, the first statement was inaccurate and should not have been made.
"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 US, he is being treated by a lower standard than might reasonably be expected for any other citizen.
"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.
"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.
"We do not intend to make any further public statement at this time as we wish to respect the rules of confidentiality under both English law and the US guidelines."