Prince Andrew has been linked to a few questionable activities this week. Is he bringing a bad reputation to the UK? Allie Wickham writes.
The newspapers have not made pleasant reading for the Duke of York in recent weeks, with the government’s Special Representative for International Trade now under mounting pressure over his links to an American sex offender. Yet while Prince Andrew’s judgment can certainly be called into question concerning his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there exists a concerted effort to undermine a man whose work has undoubtedly secured billions of pounds of business for British companies.
In November last year, the Wikileaks publication of US diplomatic cables reported Prince Andrew castigating the British media for investigating alleged corruption in the Middle East. It seems that our newspaper editors did not take kindly to being the subject of his expletive-laden diatribe. The Guardian, which was then singled out by the Duke for particular admonishment, took its revenge this week with a series of stories aimed at weakening his position. Firstly, after recent events in the Middle East, the Duke was criticised for his relations with the former Tunisian President’s son-in-law, Sakher el-Materi. Then it was the turn of Labour MP Chris Bryant to allege that Prince Andrew was a close friend of both Saif Gaddafi, the son of the Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi, and Tarek Kaituni, a convicted gun smuggler from the country. Finally several newspapers claimed that the Duke had enjoyed a 16-year friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, an American billionaire who has been jailed for soliciting an underage girl for prostitution. The New York Post almost libellously referred to him as ‘Randy Andy’.
In truth, none of these stories add up to much under scrutiny. El-Materi is clearly a less than savoury figure mired in corruption and now under investigation for money laundering, yet a few months ago he was a senior politician and major businessman in an allied country which had key trade links to Britain. When he was invited to Buckingham Palace by the Duke the true extent of the allegations against him was unknown; a trade envoy was simply doing his job by attempting to boost British business. Saif Gaddafi is clearly implicated in some of the atrocities being committed by his father’s supporters in Libya, yet just a few weeks ago he was a largely non-political socialite with links to just about every significant British politician and businessman. In any case, Buckingham Palace has insisted that the Duke met Saif just twice, and that he did not have any friendship with Kaituni. Indeed, Mr. Bryant has been slapped down by the Labour Party and warned by the Speaker, John Bercow, over the nature of his questioning. Lastly, while the Duke’s friendship with Epstein was undeniably ill-judged, Prince Andrew has accepted this and ended his relations with the disgraced billionaire. Tabloid insinuations of wrongdoing are crude and unfounded.
In effect, these stories are non-stories. Certainly three separate allegations against one man in a week smacks of a concerted smear campaign. At worst Prince Andrew is guilty of becoming acquainted with characters who have since become shady. At best he is simply a trade envoy doing what is required of him; those journalists taking the moral high ground are living in another world.