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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 named in US lawsuit against Jeffrey Epstein

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.

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Prince Andrew has denied claims by American Virginia Roberts that she was forced to have s** with him when she was 17 and says he wants to focus on his work.

In his first public appearance since the claims were made, the Duke of York said he wanted to “reiterate” the denials issued by Buckingham Palace.

Prince Andrew, 54, was speaking at a World Economic Forum reception in Davos, Switzerland.

Virginia Roberts’s lawyers have repeated the claims in new documents given to a court in Florida.

The woman, who is referred to in the case as Jane Doe #3, alleges she was forced by financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted s** offender, to have s** with Prince Andrew when she was 17.

Buckingham Palace has previously said the claims against Prince Andrew are “categorically untrue” and lack “any foundation”.Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts

Prince Andrew said: “Firstly I think I must, and want, for the record, to refer to events that have taken place in the last few weeks.

“I just wish to reiterate and to reaffirm the statements that have already been made on my behalf by Buckingham Palace.

“My focus is on my work and this evening’s reception allows me to tell you about just a couple of the initiatives that I have founded and am passionate about.”

The new documents, filed in Florida, mark the first time Virginia Roberts has given a statement about the allegations in her own words.

The woman’s lawyers said they had sent Prince Andrew a letter asking him to respond under oath to the allegations.

They say the letter was sent back to them as having been refused by the recipient.

The allegations against Prince Andrew emerged in evidence submitted to a US court in a case involving Jeffrey Epstein, who spent time in jail in 2008-2009.

Prince Andrew, the fifth in line to the throne, stepped down as UK trade envoy in July 2011 following controversy over his then friendship with Jeffrey Epstein.

The Duke of York is not facing any legal proceedings over the claims made in the US case.

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Prince Andrew is set for his first public event since underage s** claims.

The Duke of York will host a reception of business people at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday evening.

Prince Andrew, 54, will speak and may make reference to the allegations and denials that have been issued but if he does any comments will be brief.

The woman, known legally as Jane Doe #3, alleges she was forced by financier Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted s** offender, to have s** with Prince Andrew at an age when she was a minor under Florida law.Prince Andrew Davos 2015

It is the first time the woman, named elsewhere as Virginia Roberts, has given a statement in her own words to the courts.

Her lawyers said they had sent Prince Andrew a letter asking him to respond under oath to the allegations.

Prince Andrew is not facing any legal proceedings over the claims made in the US case.

They say the letter was sent back to them as having been refused by the recipient.

The allegations against Prince Andrew emerged in evidence submitted to a US court in a case involving Jeffrey Epstein, who spent time in jail in 2008-2009.

Prince Andrew, the fifth in line to the throne, stepped down as UK trade envoy in July 2011 following controversy over his then friendship with Jeffrey Epstein.

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Prince Andrew and his ex-wife Sarah Ferguson have bought a luxury chalet in the Swiss resort of Verbier.

The chalet, thought to be worth up to £13 million ($20 million), was bought by the divorced couple on a joint mortgage.

The Duke and Duchess of York have links with the ski resort going back at least 17 years, when they went there on holiday with their two daughters.

The purchase has been described as a “family investment”. Buckingham Palace declined to comment.Prince Andrew buys Swiss chalet in Verbier

The chalet was bought on a joint mortgage for a cost of between £8 million ($12 million) and £13 million ($20 million).

A source close to Sarah Ferguson described the purchase as a “family investment”.

“They holiday in Verbier several times each year as all the family are keen skiers and it makes sense to have their own place there,” the source said.

Although Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson divorced in 1996 after 10 years of marriage, they remained on good terms as they raised their two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, and the duchess lives in the family home of Royal Lodge in Berkshire.

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On the slopes of the Verbier ski resort, Prince Harry and his society girlfriend Cressida Bonas seem to be closer than ever.

The very public display of affection, in front of dozens of fellow skiers, came only a few hours after even more intimate revelries at a restaurant in the town.

Fellow diners in the wee small hours at the Pot Luck Club restaurant in the resort’s Farinet Hotel were entertained by the sight of Prince Harry bouncing  24-year-old blonde model Cressida Bonas on his knee.

Prince Harry and Cressida Bonas were said to have “kissed like love-struck teenagers in the back of a cinema”.

The other end of the same table was an altogether more sober affair. Prince Harry’s uncle, Prince Andrew, whose 53rd birthday on Tuesday they were celebrating, sat with his ex-wife, Sarah, Duchess of York, and their two daughters, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie.

Princess Eugenie’s boyfriend, Jack Brooksbank, briefly strolled over chatted to Prince Harry and Cressida Bonas. But for the most part they had eyes only for each other. The Yorks traditionally enjoy a week’s skiing in the resort every year to mark Prince Andrew’s birthday, often inviting photographers to capture the event. This time, perhaps not unsurprisingly, the invitation was not extended.

The family had booked a table for 20 at The Pot Luck, where they ordered steak and king prawns and drank $27 champagne cocktails.

As the night drew on, Prince Harry and his socialite girlfriend became increasingly tactile.

Shortly before midnight, Cressida Bonas, who wore a minuscule black dress and heels, showing off a pair of endless legs, stood up and walked over to sit on Prince Harry’s lap.

The pair then began to kiss, with Prince Harry stroking the back of her head as they did so, in a passionate clinch for several minutes.

A witness said: “We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. They were not being discreet about it.
“The Duchess of York and Eugenie sat just a few seats away at the time and seemed to be deliberately looking the other way, making polite conversation while it was happening.

“Afterwards, Harry’s girl stayed sitting on his knee while they chatted to his friends.”

The diner went on to reveal: “At one point, a waiter brought over a tray of vodka and Red Bull and Harry shouted: <<Free drinks on the house!>> Everyone seemed to be having a great time.”

Although Prince Andrew left shortly afterwards, the younger royals went on to an exclusive bar above the restaurant, before moving to a basement nightclub, where they stayed until 3.30 a.m.

On the slopes of the Verbier ski resort, Prince Harry and his society girlfriend Cressida Bonas seem to be closer than ever

On the slopes of the Verbier ski resort, Prince Harry and his society girlfriend Cressida Bonas seem to be closer than ever

Despite the late night, however, Prince Harry and Cressida Bonas still hit the slopes yesterday morning and were again seen openly hugging and kissing on the slopes, which were packed with half-term visitors.

Both appeared to be extremely competent skiers and spent most of the day on the mountain.

At one point, taking a break from their fun, Prince Harry was seen putting his arms around Cressida Bonas’ waist while she rested her head on his shoulder.

Cressida Bonas, who wore a white woolly hat with a fur bobble and pink salopettes, appeared relaxed and could be seen laughing with the Duchess of York as they left the slopes.

She and Princess Eugenie were also seen lying on the snow and giggling as they played with a large St Bernard dog.

Last summer’s disastrous Las Vegas stag trip, during which Prince Harry, now 28, was pictured naked – a faux pas which reportedly led to him being dumped briefly by a furious Cressida Bonas – seems a very long time ago now.

So, for that matter, does his previous, long-term relationship with the Zimbabwean heiress Chelsy Davy, who dumped him in 2011, reportedly because she could not face the prospect of being in the spotlight as a royal wife.

Since Vegas, Prince Harry, in his guise of Captain Wales of the Army Air Corps, has served a four-month tour of Afghanistan as a co-pilot in an Apache attack helicopter.

At the end of his service he talked of having a new maturity. A few months earlier, he had complained on American television that he would like to settle down, but girls were put off by his royal status.

The couple are said to have started dating last May, though they only appeared as an item on the public radar when pictured leaving a Mayfair nightclub in July.

They had spent the evening “kissing and cuddling” inside Le Salon after attending the latest Batman premiere.

Prince Harry’s cousin and Cressida Bonas’s good friend Princess Eugenie is said to have brought them together.

The daughter of renowned Old Harrovian businessman Jeffrey Bonas and Sixties model Lady Mary Curzon – who posed semi-naked for a coffee table photographic book and went on to get married and divorced four times – Cressida Bonas is a familiar figure in London’s upper-class social scene.

As a teenager, Cressida Bonas was labeled by society bible Tatler as “really pretty, really nice and absolutely obsessed with Eva Cassidy [the late American singer]”.

After splitting up with Chelsy Davy, Prince Harry was linked to a string of women, including model Florence Brudenell-Bruce. But Cressida Bonas seems to be the one he has been most smitten with.

Like Chelsy Davy, “Cressie” went to Leeds University where she dated Harry Wentworth-Stanley, son of the Marchioness of Milford Haven. After graduation, that relationship cooled. Now she has a prince in her life.

Last year Cressida Bonas and Prince Harry flew together to the Caribbean island of Necker for the birthday of tycoon Sir Richard Branson’s son Sam, who is engaged to be married to Cressida’s beautiful half- sister, the actress Isabella Anstuther-Gough-Calthorpe.

This week’s ski holiday, to which Prince Harry had flown on budget airline easyJet, is significant in royal terms for more than one reason.

It is the first time in many, many years that Prince Harry has been seen in public with the snubbed Duke of York’s ex-wife.

Sarah was robustly frozen out by the Royal Family after being photographed having her toes sucked by her “financial adviser” in the South of France, an incident which precipitated her divorce from Prince Andrew.

And despite enjoying a close relationship with prince Harry and his brother Prince William while they were growing up, they had little to do with Sarah after she fell out with their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, shortly before her death.

Prince Andrew, however, has always championed his ex-wife and, despite the fact that she was pointedly not invited to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding, will no doubt be feeling pleased that his nephew Prince Harry is rekindling their relationship once again, thanks to Cressida Bonas.

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According to newly-updated “protocols” approved by Queen Elizabeth II, Duchess of Cambridge has been placed firmly down the royal pecking order.

A document is said to have been circulated privately in the Royal Household, clarifying Kate’s status.

Despite being the future Queen herself, as a former commoner, the once Kate Middleton must apparently show reverence to the “blood princesses”.

This means Kate is expected to curtsey to those born royal, such as Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie – both in public and in private.

The rule only applies when her husband, Prince William, is not present.

Royal observers suspect Kate will not mind the new rules as she is keen to please everybody, but Prince William may be less happy.

In his absence, Kate must also curtsey to other blue-blooded women in the Royal Household including Princess Anne and Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s cousin.

In the case of the Countess of Wessex, it is she who will have to curtsey to Kate – even though she is a generation older and is married to the Queen’s son, Edward.

According to new protocols, Kate Middleton is expected to curtsey to those born royal, such as Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, both in public and in private

According to new protocols, Kate Middleton is expected to curtsey to those born royal, such as Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, both in public and in private

The Earl of Wessex’s wife was once the second-highest ranking woman in the Royal Family because neither of the Queen’s other sons, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, were married.

This is effectively Sophie’s second “demotion”, having been pushed down the list in 2005 after Prince Charles married Camilla, and finding she was expected to curtsey to the Duchess of Cornwall.

The complex new rules come in a little-known edict entitled the Order Of Precedence Of The Royal Family To Be Observed At Court, which the Queen has updated to take into account Prince William’s wife.

When Prince William is with her, Kate does not need to bend the knee to either Beatrice or Eugenie.

But she must always curtsey to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, whether Prince William is present or not.

The thorny question of how Kate would fit into the UK’s first family has long been a subject of speculation among royal observers.

The Princess Royal, for example, is said to have refused to ever curtsey to Princess Diana or to Camilla, on the basis they were outsiders whereas she had given her whole adult life to royal service.

In an effort to avoid an epic battle of royal egos, the Queen drew up the first Order of Precedence in 2005, after Prince Charles married Camilla.

Its effect was to change the order along “blood lines” so that Princesses Anne, Beatrice, Eugenie and Alexandra – the granddaughter of George V – were all ahead of Camilla.

The etiquette, though arcane to some, is taken very seriously by the royals, who bow and curtsey to each other in public and behind closed doors.

The Order of Precedence affects other aspects of royal protocol too, such as who arrives first at an event. For example, Camilla was forced to wait in the drizzle outside the Guards Chapel, Windsor, for the arrival of Princess Anne at a memorial service in 2006, because Prince Charles had not accompanied her.

Royal historian Brian Hoey, an expert on court protocol, predicted when Prince William married Kate that: “Kate will take the rank of her husband, which means that when she’s at court, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie should curtsey to her. But I don’t think there’s a chance they will.”

While Prince William feels warmly towards his cousins, Beatrice and Eugenie, he’s conscious of the fact that they are lesser royals.

“As future King, he will wish to see them behaving correctly towards their future Queen – but their attitude is likely to be: <<Why should I? I was born royal – Kate wasn’t>>.”