Britain’s Prince Andrew has defended his friendship with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, denying that he had any knowledge of his “criminal behaviour”.
In the statement, issued on Saturday, the Duke of York said he did not “see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction”.
Mr Epstein was found dead on August 10 in his cell at Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Centre, where he was being held on sex trafficking charges.
An autopsy concluded he took his own life. It sparked outrage and disbelief over how such a high-profile prisoner, known for socialising with powerful people including US presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, could have gone unwatched.
Prince Andrew said he met Mr Epstein in 1999 and saw him “probably no more than once or twice a year”.
He said he had stayed “in a number of his residences”.
“At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction.”
Prince Andrew has come under increasing scrutiny after footage was published last week by UK tabloid the Mail on Sunday showing him at Mr Epstein’s Manhattan mansion in 2010, two years after Mr Epstein had been convicted and jailed after pleading guilty to soliciting a minor for prostitution.
“I have previously said it was a mistake and an error to see him after his release in 2010 and I can only reiterate that I was mistaken to think that what I thought I knew of him was evidently not the real person, give what we know now,” the statement continued.
Prince Andrew said he had “tremendous sympathy” for those affected by Mr Epstein’s actions.
“His suicide has left many unanswered questions and I acknowledge and sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure,” he said. “This is a difficult time for everyone involved and I am at a loss to be able to understand or explain Mr Epstein’s lifestyle.
“I deplore the exploitation of any human being and would not condone, participate in, or encourage any such behaviour.”
Prince Andrew has issued a number of statements about Mr Epstein since 2010, when the pair was photographed walking together in New York’s Central Park, claiming to have had no contact with Mr Epstein after that.
Buckingham Palace issued a statement several days ago, in which Prince Andrew rejected any suggestion that he participated in the alleged sex crimes of which Mr Epstein had been accused.
Prince Andrew quit his role as a trade ambassador for the UK in 2011 after the fallout from his relationship with Mr Epstein, a role he had held for 10 years after retiring from the Royal Navy.
He has undergone a torrid time from the UK press since the disgraced financier’s death, with Royal watchers saying there is no doubt his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, will be concerned with the negative coverage.
“There’s always been talk that Prince Andrew is her favourite child,” Sunday Times Royal correspondent Roya Nikkah told the ABC.
“She’s extremely close to him and she’ll be very upset that he’s having to go through this, but I think she’ll also be very aware of the impact that this coverage is having on the institution.”