Following Prince Andrew's BBC interview last night, Ben Keith comments in The Times on the potential legal avenues in relation to extradition from the UK to the US. The full article from the Times, published today, is below and can be accessed here.
The Duke of York is facing renewed calls to submit to US questioning over his links to the millionaire sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein after his attempts to draw a line under the scandal in a “train wreck” television interview prompted an international backlash.
A lawyer for three of Epstein’s victims, some of whom fought for more than a decade to see him brought to justice before his suicide in August, said that the duke’s stumbling denials of complicity had only deepened the scandal around his alleged sexual encounter with an under-age girl supplied by the politically connected financier.
“I would say that, if anything, it steels victims’ resolve even more. Look at how they’ve come forward already; Prince Andrew is not a man people are afraid of,” Spencer Kuvin, a lawyer in the US who acted for three of Epstein’s victims, told The Times last night. “It’s sad that when given an opportunity to at least acknowledge that there are numerous — tens, if not hundreds — of victims of a man he used to be friendly with, whether he was involved or not, that he can’t bring himself to acknowledge that these victims even exist.
“Instead it was just a platform for him to talk about himself. He didn’t even succeed at doing what he wanted, which was to take attention off himself as a subject and put blame elsewhere.”
Epstein first came under investigation in 2005 after a 14-year-old girl, represented by Mr Kuvin, revealed that she had been paid to give Epstein a massage at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, during which he had sexually molested her.
Investigations turned up dozens of other girls with similar stories but in 2007 federal prosecutors struck a mysterious agreement through Epstein’s lawyers that he would be granted immunity from federal prosecution in exchange for pleading guilty to two minor charges of soliciting girls for prostitution. He served a 13-month prison sentence.
A federal judge ruled in February that the government had violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by concealing the non-prosecution from Epstein’s accusers but attempts to overturn the non-prosecution agreement have failed in court.
Epstein was re-arrested in New York in July on charges of sex-trafficking minors and was found dead in his prison cell in August. A coroner ruled that he had committed suicide.
The duke complained in Saturday’s interview with Emily Maitlis of the BBC’s Newsnight — filmed at Buckingham Palace — that the Epstein saga had become a “constant sore” for himself and his family and “almost a mental health issue . . . nagging at my mind for a great many years”. He said that he had “no recollection” of ever meeting Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claims that as a teenager in 2001 she was made to have sex with him three times — in London, New York and at an orgy at Epstein’s home in the US Virgin Islands. He stated later in the interview, however: “I don’t know if I’ve met her.”
Jack Scarola, a lawyer for Ms Giuffre, renewed his calls for the duke to sit down with lawyers and investigators. “I would love to see Prince Andrew submit to an interview under oath with the investigating authorities. Talking to the media doesn’t quite cut it. Statements that are not under oath carry little weight,” he told the Daily Mail before the interview was broadcast.
Ms Giuffre, now 35, did not comment on the duke’s interview yesterday but endorsed a number of cynical posts on Twitter, including one saying: “Prince Andrew’s shocking interview was an attempt to save his reputation — but it just raised more questions.”
The duke is not immune from prosecution or extradition to the US to face allegations that he had sex with an under-age girl, senior lawyers have told The Times.
Anna Rothwell, a lawyer at Corker Binning, a leading criminal law firm in London, said that with the FBI known to be investigating the Epstein affair and those said to be associated with it, the duke was “vulnerable to extradition”.
“He is not entitled to any form of immunity by virtue of his position as a member of the royal family,” she said.
His decision to give an interview was very unwise, she said — “especially one which so starkly exposes the closeness of his relationship with Epstein” — and “again betrays yet another appalling lack of judgment”.
Ben Keith, a specialist extradition barrister at the London chambers Five St Andrew’s Hill, agreed and said: “Giving them [the US authorities] ammunition was extremely unwise.”
For the duke to be forced to appear before a court in America, the US authorities “would have to start criminal proceedings and get an indictment issued by a grand jury before making a formal request to the UK for his extradition”.
Mr Keith added: “Extradition to the US is difficult to resist, especially since the allegations did not take place in the UK.”
Federal prosecutors met victims of Epstein in New York and in Florida last month for talks described as hopeful relating to their pursuit of alleged co-conspirators including Ghislaine Maxwell, 57. It is unknown whether the duke is also a focus.
“He knows he’s potentially under investigation,” Mr Kuvin said.
While the women he represented had no encounters with the duke, there was disappointment that he had failed to recognise their suffering, Mr Kuvin said.
“If Prince Andrew grants an interview, everyone listens, so what better opportunity to take the time to be able to talk about how women across the world are being abused by people like Epstein?” he added.
Despite Epstein’s death the push for justice has continued, with lawsuits served against his $577 million estate and against co-conspirators accused of abetting his abuses. But the hunt by victims’ lawyers for Ms Maxwell, daughter of the late disgraced newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell, has come up empty and her whereabouts are unknown.
Ben Keith is a leading specialist in Extradition and International Crime. As well as dealing with Immigration, Serious Fraud, and Public law. He has extensive experience of appellate proceedings before the Administrative and Divisional Courts, Criminal and Civil Court of Appeal as well as applications and appeals to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and United Nations. He is ranked in Chambers and Partners as a band 1 leader in the field of Extradition at the London Bar and in the Legal 500 as a band 1 leading individual in international crime and extradition.