LONDON — Buckingham Palace has never been able to explain the photograph. It shows a middle-aged Prince Andrew, Duke of York, smiling with his arm around the bare waist of Virginia Roberts, then 17, who claims she was paid by Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with the prince.In the background stands Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who accusers say was Epstein’s girlfriend and madam. The photo was reportedly taken at Maxwell’s London home in 2001.The image caused scandalous headlines for the royal family when it first surfaced in 2015, along with an array of serious allegations of sexual misconduct. Andrew, the brother of Prince Charles, had long been dubbed “Randy Andy” in the British tabloids. He has denied having any sexual relations with Roberts.But after the arrest of Epstein on July 6 on federal charges of sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York, this old scandal is back for Prince Andrew.With Epstein now dead after a suspected suicide on Saturday, and Maxwell apparently outside the reach of investigators, hiding from the limelight she once embraced, the Duke of York may be the highest-profile member of Epstein’s circle from the time of the allegations against him.On Friday, newly released legal documents from a defamation suit that Roberts brought against Maxwell not only underscored old accusations but also surfaced previously unheard allegations of inappropriate behaviour.In the documents, Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, says she was “trafficked” to Prince Andrew, with whom she claims to have had sex three times. Her lawyers say flight logs show Giuffre, Maxwell and Epstein flying to London on Epstein’s private plane.They also claim that the photograph of Andrew, Giuffre and Maxwell, included in the documents, corroborates their claims.“There is no other reasonable explanation why an American child should be in the company of adults not her kin, in the London house owned by the girlfriend of a now convicted sex offender,” the lawyers said.The documents also list another woman named Johanna Sjoberg, then 21, who alleged that Andrew groped her at Epstein’s New York townhouse.
Rick Friedman Photography/Corbis via Getty Images
“I just remember someone suggesting a photo, and they told us to go get on the couch. And so Andrew and Virginia sat on the couch, and they put the puppet, the puppet on her lap,” said Sjoberg, in testimony included in the documents.“And so then I sat on Andrew’s lap, and I believe on my own volition, and they took the puppet’s hands and put it on Virginia’s breast, and so Andrew put his on mine.”Buckingham Palace has largely been tight-lipped about the allegations this week. A number of British newspapers showed Andrew, now 59, traveling to church on Sunday with his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. “Royals rally round” read a caption in the Sun, a right-wing tabloid.In a family where attention has passed in recent years to a younger, more popular generation, it was an unwelcome return to the dark allegations against an older royal whose public image is tarnished by rumours of a rocky romantic life and murky business arrangements — or in the case of his friendship with Epstein, sometimes both intertwined.That friendship with Epstein has already dogged Andrew for years. He and Epstein reportedly met in the late 1990s, introduced by Maxwell, daughter of disgraced media mogul Robert Maxwell.A picture of Epstein and Andrew strolling in Central Park, taken in 2010 but published a year later, proved damaging for the prince. Epstein was, by then, a registered sex offender, and questions were raised about Andrew’s judgment. A few months later, Andrew gave up his role as Britain’s business ambassador, promoting British interests abroad.The prince’s former wife, Sarah Ferguson, also was tangled up with Epstein, having accepted £15,000 pounds ($18,000) from him to help pay off her debts. She later said it was a “gigantic error of judgment.”She told the Evening Standard: “Once again my errors have compounded and rebounded and also inadvertently impacted on the man I admire most in the world, the duke.”The prince and Ferguson — also widely known here as Fergie – wed in 1986 and had two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie, before divorcing in 1996. The two remain on friendly terms and even sometimes take vacations together, sparking endless rumours that they may get back together.Buckingham Palace said this weekend that any “suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue” and that the new allegations that came out this weekend stemmed from a court case “to which the Duke Of York is not a party.”But in a post-#MeToo era, it may prove difficult for a powerful man accused of sexual misconduct to bat away the accusations — even if he is a royal. A number of British lawmakers are now calling for a new investigation of Prince Andrew’s ties to Epstein.“We are talking about the trafficking of children,” Jess Phillips, a member of Parliament from the opposition Labour Party, told the Daily Mirror. “This is very serious and authorities should learn from the past in ignoring such allegations.”