The US has officially demanded Britain hand over Prince Andrew to be quizzed over his links to billionaire paedophile pal Jeffrey Epstein. And in a bombshell move, the Department of Justice has formally told the UK the Duke of York is now caught up in a criminal probe for the first time.
Very awkward for Britain.
Must feel strange for UK to be treated as a colony after centuries of being a colonizer.
This story should run side by side with the story of the wife of American intelligence officer (with no diplomatic immunity) who killed a boy in a car accident in London and smuggled out by US government to avoid standing trial in UK.
Andrew, 60, has so far refused to be quizzed by New York prosecutors investigating Epstein’s evil historic sex trafficking network but strongly denies any wrongdoing.
Until now it was thought he was only likely to be the target of action by Epstein’s victims in the US civil courts.
One - Virginia Roberts Giuffre, now 36 - alleges she had sex with Andrew on three occasions between 2001 and 2002, twice while underage. However Andrew denies this.
But now The Sun can reveal the US Department of Justice has dramatically upped the stakes.
It has by-passed Buckingham Palace - instead filing a “mutual legal assistance” (MLA) request to the Home Office.
MLA requests are only used in criminal cases under a legal treaty with the UK.
It means Andrew, who “categorically denies” any wrongdoing, could now be forced to appear in a UK court as a witness within months.
The move also piles pressure on the Duke to give evidence - and on the UK Government to assist.
The Sun understands no decision on the explosive request has yet been made by British officials.
And sources said it was unlikely Andrew would be aware of the MLA request at this stage because countries are legally obliged to keep them secret.
But a source said: “It’s a huge statement of intent from the US and it moves Andrew into the realms of a criminal investigation.
“It’s also frankly a diplomatic nightmare.
“The DoJ does not make a request of this nature lightly, especially one involving a senior member of the British royal family.
“It puts the UK government in a very difficult position - and the Duke of York even even more so.”
The Sun has learned the request was formally lodged by the DoJ last month under the terms of a 1994 MLA treaty.
If granted, US prosecutors would have two options.
The first, typically only used for witnesses to crimes, would see the Duke asked to voluntarily attend an interview and give a signed statement. Crucially, this would NOT be under oath.
But sources say angry American investigators - frustrated at what they see as a lack of cooperation from the Queen’s son to date - have the power to pursue an explosive second route.
That would see Andrew asked to attend London’s City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court to provide oral or written evidence on oath.
If he refused, the Duke could be forced to attend in person by summons, with DoJ lawyers able to quiz him.
Andrew, unlike the Queen, does not hold sovereign immunity from prosecution.
But any evidence session could be held “in camera” - privately, with no press or public present.
He would still have the right to “take the Fifth” by staying silent to avoid self-incrimination.
MLA requests filed to the UK in criminal matters are always dealt with by the Home Office.
They are rarely used in civil matters, but if they are, any request has to be filed to the Foreign Office instead.
American legal experts have already warned that any decision by Andrew to remain silent could badly backfire.
Last month ex-federal prosecutor Evan T Barr told a top US law journal: “While the Prince would retain the right to decline to testify under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the impact on his already diminished reputation would be considerable and an adverse inference could be drawn against him in the related civil litigations, leading to a possible default judgment.”
CAREER IN RUINS
Andrew stepped down as a senior royal after his disastrous Newsnight interview last November.
It aimed to clear the air, but the “car crash” exchange with BBC presenter Emily Maitlis instead has seen his career left in ruins.
During the interview, Andrew said he would help the US investigation if his “legal advice was to do so”.
But in January, Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York leading the Epstein inquiry, said the Duke had “provided zero co-operation”.
Two months later Mr Berman said the Duke had “now completely shut the door on voluntary co-operation”.
And in a hint of what was to come, Mr Berman warned: “Our office is considering its options.”
Andrew’s aides hit back, insisting his lawyers had been in touch with prosecutors since the beginning of the year.
Mr Berman’s office admitted there had been “communications through his attorneys”.
But they said Andrew’s lawyers had made it clear he was still “not willing to submit to an interview”.
Timeline of trouble
1999: Andrew introduced to Epstein through Ghislaine Maxwell. He is invited to Balmoral.
2000: Duke joins pair at Donald Trump’s Florida resort. Epstein a guest at Windsor Castle.
2001: Virginia Roberts Giuffre, then 17, claims Epstein trafficked her to London where she had sex with Andrew at Ghislaine’s flat.
2005: Florida police launch probe into claims Epstein paid underage girls for sex at his home.
2006: Epstein attends Beatrice’s 18th party shortly after warrant is issued for his arrest.
2008: Epstein admits prostituting minors and gets 18 months’ jail.
2010: Released and Andrew stays at his New York home.
2011: Duke quits as UK trade envoy over Epstein links.
2015: Ms Giuffre names Andrew in legal papers. Claims later struck from US civil court records.2019: Legal papers reveal Johanna Sjoberg claims royal touched her breast at Epstein’s home in 2001.
JULY 2019: Epstein sex trafficking arrest.AUG 2019: He dies in jail. Andrew “appalled” by claims against his pal, adding “at no stage” did he “see or suspect” any criminal behaviour.
NOV 2019: BBC airs Andrew “car crash” interview. Charities cut ties. He quits as senior royal.
JAN 2020: US prosecutor Geoffrey Berman accuses Andrew of zero cooperation. In March he says royal has “shut the door” on helping.
APRIL 2020: US prosecutors open talks with the Home Office, revealed by The Sun today.