04:06 GMT30 September 2020
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    UK socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who is accused of grooming girls to be abused by her notorious friend and ex-partner Jeffrey Epstein, is also alleged to have taken part in the abuse herself.

    Prince Andrew's participation in the Epstein criminal case surrounding sex offences involving minors doesn't appear to be over as US prosecutors have called on him to speak to them after his friend Ghislaine Maxwell's arrest on Thursday morning, The Times reported, citing US investigators.

    Insisting that the investigation into Epstein and his associates should persist, Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York urged the Duke of York, to "come in to talk to us", explaining the investigators' stance: "We would like to have the benefit of his statement . . . our doors remain open and we would welcome him coming in and giving us an opportunity to hear his statement".

    Investigators accused Maxwell of being "one of the villains" in the Epstein case, tapping her for transfer to New York for further proceedings after she appeared in court by a video link. Strauss pointed to a photograph of Epstein nuzzling Ms Maxwell with his arm around her, saying that they had a "personal and professional relationship" and that the lady was "among Epstein's closest associates and helped him exploit girls" and "in some cases participated in the abuse herself".

    Maxwell, a 58-year-old British socialite, was accused of helping Epstein to "recruit, groom, and ultimately abuse" at least three girls, including one as young as 14, between 1994 and 1997, with one of them allegedly abused at her UK property.

    Referring to Ghislaine's earlier testimony in 2016, the attorney said that Ms Maxwell had perjured herself because "the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable".

    Prince Andrew has been part of a controversy with the US authorities over whether he is prepared to answer questions about his past relationship with Epstein and his regular trips to the latter's Big Apple mansion and staying there in his own personal guest area.

    Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York speaks at a news conference announcing charges against Ghislaine Maxwell
    © REUTERS / LUCAS JACKSON
    Audrey Strauss, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York speaks at a news conference announcing charges against Ghislaine Maxwell

    Strauss's predecessor said that the embattled Duke of York was refusing to assist the investigation and so formally requested to question him, although the Duke has since insisted that he is willing to cooperate but has received no answer from the US authorities. A source close to the Duke's legal team said that they were "bewildered" by the prosecutors' statements because they had "twice communicated" with the Department of Justice in the past month and had had no response.

    Meanwhile, the Duke has been directly implicated in the Epstein case, as Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of the accusers, has claimed that she was introduced to Epstein by Maxwell before being trafficked to London and forced to have sex with the Duke at Maxwell's Belgravia home. After Maxwell's arrest, the US authorities urged the courts to reject any potential application for bail, arguing that Ms Maxwell had "an extraordinary incentive to flee" given her overwhelming finances and international connections. 

    She was busted in the town of Bradford, New Hampshire, where it's claimed she's been living on a 156-acre property that she paid for in cash last December, using a limited liability company to conceal her identity. Since Epstein's arrest in July 2019 and his subsequent death while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, Maxwell is said to have been shunning the limelight and the watchful eyes of US prosecutors.

    Maxwell has rejected the claims of her involvement in Epstein's abuse.

    The three girls in the indictment have not been named and it's unclear whether the alleged victim who met Maxwell in the UK has ever gone to the police there. Prince Andrew, who appears to have known Ghislaine Maxwell for nearly 40 years, said that it was Ms Maxwell who introduced him to Epstein.

    "I met through his girlfriend back in 1999 . . . I'd known her since she was at university in the UK and it would be, to some extent, a stretch to say that as it were we were close friends", he said in a Newsnight interview last November.

    "I mean we were friends because of other people and I had a lot of opportunity to go to the United States but I didn't have much time with him", he went on confusedly at the time. Andrew, however, did invite Epstein to Windsor Castle in 2006 for his daughter Princess Beatrice's 18th birthday party.

    "Because I was asking Ghislaine", he said. At the time, the Duke recalled, he had no knowledge that Epstein had been charged with sex offences involving minors. "Remember that it was his girlfriend that was the key element in this", he said.

    "He was the 'plus one'". When asked if he thought she was complicit in the crimes committed by Epstein, already a convicted paedophile by then, Andrew charged: "If there are questions that Ghislaine has to answer, that's her problem I'm afraid", he said. "I'm not in a position to comment".

    Billionaire financier Jeffrey Epstein, nabbed on sex trafficking and sexual abuse charges in the summer of 2019, was weeks later found dead in his New York prison cell, with the death formally ruled to be suicide. The development has since sparked numerous speculations about his ties with the rich and powerful and their suspected complicity in Epstein's criminal behaviour, which purportedly involved minors.

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    Prince Andrew, UK, US, sexual abuse, Jeffrey Epstein
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