The unsealing of Ghislaine Maxwell’s 418-page deposition from Virginia Roberts Guiffre’s defamation case in 2016 on Thursday has sent everyone searching for a smoking gun. When it was released on Thursday, the pages were heavily redacted. Ms Maxwell’s lawyers had fought tooth and nail to prevent its publication.So what are they so desperate to hide?
Alongside the charges of sexual misconduct, there are charges of perjury against Maxwell. The criminal indictment against her says: “In or around 2016, in the context of a deposition as part of a civil litigation, Ghislaine Maxwell, the defendant, repeatedly provided false and perjurious statements, under oath…”
What has been published this week is that deposition. Consequently, Prince Andrew’s most persistent accuser, Ms Roberts Guiffre, will take the witness stand when Maxwell stands trial next July on four counts of facilitating sex with minors and two counts of perjury. She claims that she was trafficked to have sex with Prince Andrew. He has denied all such allegations and his name is blanked out along with some of the other rich and powerful men accused of being too close to Jeffrey Epstein, who died in a New York jail cell last year.
However, the testimony unmistakably refers to the prince and the infamous photograph taken of the trio at the mews house. The photograph, Maxwell insisted in 2016 – a claim later echoed by Prince Andrew – might be fake. She said: “I don’t recognise that picture. I’m not sure if that’s a real picture or not.”
The palace may have hoped this story would have just gone away, but a day of reckoning now seems to be inevitable. The American justice system is notoriously relentless. While most cases of this nature are settled by a plea bargain, Maxwell shows no signs of copping a guilty plea. Her denials of any allegations of sex crimes being committed are unyielding and dogmatic. Ms Roberts Giuffre is called a liar on no fewer than 28 occasions – also an “exaggerator”, “fantasist” and “truly terrible person”. The bath in her Belgravia mews house, Maxwell says, was “too small for any type of activity whatsoever”; naked photographs of minors were never taken and she is adamant she never asked Epstein if he had sex with underage girls.
Even when it is pointed out to her that, in 2008, Epstein had already pleaded guilty to procuring for prostitution a girl below the age of 18 she responds: “I don’t know exactly what he was convicted of. I don’t know that he was convicted. I know he spent time in jail,” later adding: “I only know he went to jail for – it was alleged that he hired – had an underage prostitute.”
So where does this latest twist in the sordid chapter leave Her Majesty’s favourite son? While Donald Trump wished Ms Maxwell well in July, he also had some words to say about Prince Andrew. Concerning convicted paedophile Epstein’s Caribbean island, where orgies were said to have taken place, he said: “I don’t know, but that island was really a cesspool, there’s no question about it. Just ask Prince Andrew – he’ll tell you about it, the island was an absolute cesspool.”
And there is no denying the FBI does want to ask Prince Andrew about it. Back in June, federal prosecutors confirmed that the Department of Justice had made a formal request under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) for access to the prince in the matter of Epstein. Prince Andrew had 21 days to submit himself to being interviewed by the American authorities. Otherwise, Scotland Yard was supposed to ask him questions provided by the Department of Justice. If he refused to co-operate he could be subpoenaed by a British court and answer the questions there.
Throughout, Prince Andrew has maintained that he is willing to co-operate. He is only wanted for questioning about what he may know about the Epstein case. There are no charges against him. Indeed the sexual offences in the indictment against Ms Maxwell occurred before Prince Andrew knew Epstein and there is no mention of him in relation to those charges. Even so, under the treaty, if he went to the US to speak to the authorities he could not be arrested. The MLAT offers further reassurance by saying he would be given safe conduct.
It is not currently known whether the prince has spoken to Scotland Yard or the FBI, or whether Home Secretary Priti Patel has acted on the MLAT request. If she hasn’t, this is a possible breach of an international treaty. If she has – or Prince Andrew has submitted himself voluntarily – now might be the time to say so. With the trial fast approaching, this matter cannot be brushed under the carpet much longer. While President Trump may restrain his Attorney General William Barr, a new head of the Justice Department appointed by Joe Biden would have free rein.
It may well be that Prince Andrew’s continuing silence stems from a loyalty to Ms Maxwell. However, this has got him into trouble before. He demonstrated his loyalty to Epstein in December 2010, two years after the financier pleaded guilty to child sex charges in a controversial deal that saw him serve just 13 months. On that occasion, the Prince stayed at Epstein’s New York mansion for four days and was photographed strolling in Central Park with him.
In Prince Andrew’s car-cash interview with BBC Newsnight, aired in November 2019, he told Emily Maitlis that he had gone to New York to break off his friendship with Epstein.
“A four-day house party of sorts with a dinner. It’s an odd way to break up a friendship,” said Maitlis. Prince Andrew replied: “I could easily have gone and stayed somewhere else but sheer convenience of being able to get a hold of the man was… I mean he was in and out all over the place. So getting him in one place for a period of time to actually have a long enough conversation to say look, these are the reasons why I’m not going to… and that happened on the walk.”
Buckingham Palace has had 10 years to deal with this matter. Any company would have acted swiftly to insulate themselves from such a scandal. Instead, the Palace’s attention has been taken up by the perennial power struggle between Prince Charles and Prince Andrew and the more recent dramas between the younger brothers Prince William and Prince Harry.
The Royal Family and their courtiers have maintained what they see as a dignified silence. Their loyalty could be seen as admirable. However, the victims – many of whom are seeking redress in civil suits against the Epstein estate – might be forgiven for considering this “honour among thieves”.
In December 2019, after Maxwell had gone to ground, The Sun reported that Prince Andrew had not cut his ties with her. “They have remained constantly in touch by phone and email,” a source told the newspaper. “The Duke has an unswerving loyalty to Ghislaine and she is very loyal to him. They both share the view they have done nothing wrong. They talk regularly. If he wasn’t in the spotlight at the moment he would have found a way to meet up with her.” An email exchange between Maxwell and Prince Andrew is also recounted in the released documents. “Let me know when we can talk. Got some specific questions to ask you about Virginia Roberts,” he messaged her, to which he got a reply saying: “Have some info. Call me when you have a moment.”
Both Maxwell and Prince Andrew have maintained repeatedly that Virginia Roberts Guiffre is a liar. Ms Roberts Guiffre regarded this as defamation and sued in 2016. The case was settled in her favour and the court papers sealed. They have now been unsealed and this week Ms Roberts Giuffre was thankful for the decision by the judge to make the deposition public, saying in a statement: “I’m very grateful to Judge Preska for her decision to unseal these depositions.
“This journey to justice has taken decades for my fellow abuse survivors and me, including years in which our voices were ignored. Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein did not act alone. With more transparency, I am hopeful that all who helped perpetuate these heinous crimes will be held accountable.”
Next July, Ms Roberts Guiffre will have her day in court and will no doubt fill in the blanks left by the redactions in these files. Then Prince Andrew will no longer be able to hide behind palace walls and maybe once and for all Epstein’s victims will find justice.
Prince Andrew: Epstein, Maxwell and the Palace by Nigel Cawthorne (RRP £20). Buy now for £16.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514