Prince Andrew is defending his numerous ties to the late Jeffrey Epstein, the financier who died in prison earlier this month while awaiting trial on charges of trafficking underage girls, with the British royal insisting he never participated in any sexual abuse.
In a statement released Saturday, the Duke of York acknowledged there had been immense media speculation regarding his "former association or friendship" with Epstein. "Therefore I am eager to clarify the facts to avoid further speculation," he said.
Andrew, the third child of Queen Elizabeth and eighth in line to the throne, said that he first met Epstein in 1999, seeing him "infrequently and probably no more than only once or twice per year," and staying in a number of Epstein's residences.
"At no stage during the limited time I spent with him did I see, witness or suspect any behaviour of the sort that subsequently led to his arrest and conviction," he said.
Epstein was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell earlier this month in what authorities have said was a suicide. He was arrested in July and accused of running a sex trafficking operation in which he allegedly sexually abused dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14, in his New York and Florida homes between 2002 and 2005.
Epstein was known for having a coterie of influential associates, including former president Bill Clinton, President Donald Trump, and Prince Andrew. The charges led to scrutiny of these former friends, with questions about what they did or did not know about Epstein's activities or whether they themselves participated in any abuse.
Virginia Giuffre, who was photographed with Andrew's hand around her waist when she was 17 in 2001, has alleged she was coerced by Epstein to have sex with the prince. Buckingham Palace has vehemently denied the claims.
"I deplore the exploitation of any human being," Prince Andrew said in his statement Saturday, "and would not condone, participate in, or encourage any such behavior."
Epstein had faced similar federal charges in 2008 but was granted a secretive and lenient plea deal that required him only to plead guilty to a state charge of soliciting a minor for prostitution. He was incarcerated for just 13 months, during which time he was allowed to leave jail six days a week on "work release."
Not long after Epstein's release on probation in 2010, Prince Andrew was again seen with him — something the royal says he now regrets.
"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 know now," Prince Andrew said in his statement.
The prince said he had "tremendous sympathy" for those affected by Epstein's actions as well as by his suicide, which Andrew said "has left many unanswered questions" and denied many "some form of closure."
He said he was "at a loss to be able to understand or explain" Epstein's "lifestyle."