Prince Andrew has opened up for the first time to defend his former friendship with US financier Jeffrey Epstein, saying “at no stage” did he “see or suspect” any criminal behavior.
Jeffrey Epstein, 66, took his own life in a jail cell this month while awaiting trial on trafficking charges.
In a statement, Prince Andrew said he wanted to “clarify the facts” around his “former association or friendship” with Epstein.
The Duke of York, 59, said it was a “mistake” to meet Epstein after he left prison in 2010.
He said: “During the time I knew him, I saw him infrequently and probably no more than only once or twice a year.
“I have 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 behavior of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction.”
Prince Andrew – who said he first met Jeffrey Epstein in 1999 – added that he had “tremendous sympathy” for all those affected by Epstein’s behavior.
The duke said: “His suicide has left many unanswered questions and I acknowledge and sympathize with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure.”
Allegations against Jeffrey Epstein began to surface in 2005 when the parents of a 14-year-old girl told police in Florida he had molested their daughter at his Palm Beach home.
The financier was accused of paying underage girls to perform s** acts at his Manhattan and Florida mansions between 2002 and 2005.
A controversial secret plea deal saw Jeffrey Eptstein plead guilty to a lesser charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution. The tycoon received an 18-month prison sentence and was released on probation in 2010.
Prince Andrew was photographed with Jeffrey Epstein in New York’s Central Park in late 2010 – after the financier was released from jail.
Footage has also emerged reportedly showing Prince Andrew at Epstein’s mansion in Manhattan in 2010.
In the statement, released on August 24, the prince added: “I have said previously that it was a mistake and an error to see him after his release in 2010 and I can only reiterate my regret that I was mistaken to think that what I thought I knew of him was evidently not the real person, given what we now know.
“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 behavior.”
In July 2019, Jeffrey Epstein was charged in New York with further allegations of trafficking and conspiracy and was due to face trial next year.
Jeffrey pleaded not guilty to all the charges but if convicted, was facing up to 45 years in prison.