Prosecutors formally request to talk with Prince Andrew in Epstein investigation

Prince Andrew's lawyers responded Monday saying that they offered his help as a witness on at least three occasions this year.

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By Tom Winter and Yuliya Talmazan

Federal prosecutors in New York have formally requested through the British government to speak with Prince Andrew as part of their criminal investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's history of sexual abuse, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The request, made under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, or MLAT, is similar to a subpoena in this case for Prince Andrew's testimony.

It's a rare move to seek an interview like this through MLAT, officials say, and it's focused on making sure the investigation is as thorough as possible.

Prince Andrew's lawyers responded Monday, saying that they offered his help as a witness on at least three occasions this year.

The prince’s legal team, consisting of Blackfords LLP and instructed counsel, Clare Montgomery QC and Stephen Ferguson, claimed that the DOJ reacted to the first two offers of assistance by breaching its own confidentiality rules and claiming that Prince Andrew has offered zero cooperation.

“In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered,” the prince's legal team said in a statement.

Prince Andrew with Virginia Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell at Andrew's London home in a photo released with court documents.

The lawyers said the first time the DOJ requested Prince Andrew's help was on Jan. 2 this year, but they have chosen not to make any public statement regarding their discussions with the Department of Justice up until now over confidentiality considerations.

The lawyers added that the DOJ has also advised them that Prince Andrew is not and has never been a “target” of their criminal investigations into Epstein and that they sought his confidential, voluntary cooperation.

Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, told NBC News earlier Monday that the office would decline to comment.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman foreshadowed the move by the U.S. prosecutors in March when he said he would consider legal action after Prince Andrew's representatives had closed the door to an interview.

"Contrary to Prince Andrew's very public offer to cooperate with our investigation into Epstein's co-conspirators, an offer that was conveyed via press release, Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation," Berman said, adding that his office is "considering its options."

The prince’s legal team said Monday that Berman's comments were inaccurate and should not have been made.

“Far from our client acting above the law, as has been implied by press briefings in the U.S., he is being treated by a lower standard than might reasonably be expected for any other citizen,” the team's statement said, adding that the breaches of confidentiality by the DOJ have given "an entirely misleading account" of their discussions with them.

Attorney General William Barr weighed in on Monday evening, telling Fox News said it wasn't a "question of handing him over.”

“I think it’s just a question of having him provide some evidence, but beyond that, I’m not going to comment,” he said.

Federal investigators have been trying for months to speak with the Duke of York, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II anda longtime friend of Epstein's who has been accused by one woman of sexual abuse.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the request from U.S. prosecutors to speak with Prince Andrew. A spokesperson for U.K.'s Home Office said Monday it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of mutual legal assistance requests.

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Epstein, 66, died by suicide in August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Prosecutors accused the politically connected financier of preying on dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.

Following Epstein's death, prosecutors vowed to continue the investigation. The case brought renewed attention to several high-profile people in Epstein's orbit, including Andrew.

In a widely panned interview with the BBC in the fall, Andrew, 60, denied allegations that he had sex with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who says she was trafficked by Epstein when she was 17 and was directed to have sexual relations with the prince. Andrew said that he had no recollection of ever having met her — despite a widely circulated photograph showing the two had met — and that he was at a pizza restaurant with his daughter on the day in 2001 that Giuffre alleges they had the sexual encounter.

Prince Andrew stepped down from his public duties after the interview that has drawn widespread criticism, saying in a statement released at the time that he was willing to help "any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."