World / Politics

U.K.'s Prince Andrew to step back from public duties amid Jeffrey Epstein sex scandal

AP

Following days of turmoil that have damaged the British royal family’s reputation, Prince Andrew has decided to step back from public duties with the queen’s permission because of his association with a notorious sex offender.

The second son of Queen Elizabeth II said in a statement Wednesday that it has become clear to him in recent days that his association with the late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has become a “major distraction” to the royal family’s charitable work. It’s unclear whether this is a temporary or permanent change in Andrew’s role.

Andrew said in the statement he is “of course” willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with its investigation if required.

The unseemly scandal has rocked the royal family, particularly over the past few days since his unsuccessful television interview on Saturday failed to bring an end to highly personal questions over his links to Epstein.

The decision of a senior royal to step away from his royal duties is extremely unusual and reflects the degree to which charities and educational institutions had been questioning their associations with him in recent days.

“It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family’s work and the valuable work going on in the many organizations and charities that I am proud to support,” he said.

Andrew, who showed no remorse in Saturday’s interview, said he regrets his association with the former U.S. billionaire investor. He said he “deeply sympathizes” with Epstein’s many victims, many of whom were underage and victims of trafficking.

The statement made clear that Andrew and his advisers understand how damaging his TV interview was to his reputation.

Andrew earned widespread derision during the interview because he seemed to show no regrets for his close association with the convicted sex offender, who took his own life on Aug. 10 in a New York prison.

Epstein was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, robbing his victims of their chance to see him brought to justice. His death has been ruled a suicide by the city’s medical examiner.

“His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathize with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure,” Andrew said. “I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives.”

Like most senior members of the royal family, Andrew was patron for charities and other civic endeavors, lending his name and the backing of the monarchy to the good works of all manner of institutions.

In the wake of the interview, some charities and universities that he has worked with as a patron have said they were reviewing their association with the prince. And major businesses including Barclays and BT distanced themselves from Andrew in charities they were involved with.

Andrew has been facing questions over his links to Epstein for years, and he hoped the interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis would ease the pressure.

The move backfired.

The main focus ahead of the interview had centered on whether he had had sex with Virginia Giuffre, who says she was trafficked by Epstein. Though Andrew categorically denied the claims, his answers prompted much scorn. Giuffre said she had sex with Andrew on three occasions, including twice when she was 17.

Andrew seemed insensitive and arrogant — particularly in an era in which social media have made even the rich and the powerful seem more accessible.

Andrew even defended his previous friendship with Epstein because of the contacts it provided when he was preparing for his role as Britain’s special trade representative.

Andrew’s announcement that he was leaving his public role, at least for a time, conjured up memories of the historic decision of King Edward VIII to abdicate in 1936 so that he could marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee. The queen’s father George VI succeeded Edward.

The queen did not comment on her son’s decision. She has never spoken out on the matter.