Britain's Prince Andrew faces new scrutiny for ties to Jeffrey Epstein

LONDON - Buckingham Palace has never attempted to explain the photograph. It shows a middle-aged Prince Andrew, Duke of York, smiling with his arm around the bare waist of Virginia Roberts, then 17, who claims she was paid by Jeffrey Epstein to have sex with the prince.

In the background stands Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite who accusers say was Epstein's girlfriend and madam. The photo was reportedly taken at Maxwell's London home in 2001.

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The image caused scandalous headlines for the royal family when it first surfaced in 2015, along with an array of serious allegations of sexual misconduct. Andrew, the brother of Prince Charles and eighth in line to the British throne, had long been dubbed "Randy Andy" in the British tabloids. He has denied having any sexual relations with Roberts.

But after the arrest of Epstein on July 6 on federal charges of sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York, this old scandal is back for Prince Andrew.

With Epstein now dead after a suspected suicide on Saturday, and Maxwell apparently outside the reach of investigators, hiding from the limelight she once embraced, the Duke of York may be the highest-profile member of Epstein's circle from the time of the allegations against him.

On Friday, newly unsealed legal documents from a defamation suit Roberts brought against Maxwell resurfaced old accusations and elaborated on the account of inappropriate behavior.

In the documents, Roberts, now Virginia Giuffre, says she was "trafficked" to Prince Andrew, with whom she claims to have had sex three times. Her lawyers say flight logs show Giuffre, Maxwell and Epstein flying to London on Epstein's private plane.

They also claim that the photograph of Andrew, Giuffre and Maxwell, included in the documents, corroborates their claims.

"There is no other reasonable explanation why an American child should be in the company of adults not her kin, in the London house owned by the girlfriend of a now convicted sex offender," the lawyers said.

The documents also contain deposition testimony from a woman named Johanna Sjoberg, who echoes allegations first made public in 2007 that Andrew groped her at Epstein's New York townhouse when she was 21.

"I just remember someone suggesting a photo, and they told us to go get on the couch. And so Andrew and Virginia sat on the couch, and they put the puppet, the puppet on her lap," said Sjoberg, in testimony included in the documents.

"And so then I sat on Andrew's lap, and I believe on my own volition, and they took the puppet's hands and put it on Virginia's breast, and so Andrew put his on mine."

Buckingham Palace, which rarely comments on scandalous accusations, repeated denials it issued in 2015. A spokesperson told The Washington Post: "This relates to proceedings in the United States, to which the Duke of York is not a party. Any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue."

A number of British newspapers showed Andrew, now 59, traveling to church on Sunday with his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. "Royals rally round" read a caption in the Sun, a right-wing tabloid.

In a family where attention has passed in recent years to a younger, more popular generation, it was an unwelcome return to the dark allegations against an older royal whose public image is tarnished by rumors of a rocky romantic life and murky business arrangements - or in the case of his friendship with Epstein, sometimes both intertwined.

That friendship with Epstein has already dogged Andrew for years.

A picture of Epstein and Andrew strolling in Central Park, taken in 2010 but published a year later, proved especially damaging for the prince. Epstein was, by then, a registered sex offender, and questions were raised about Andrew's judgment. A few months later, Andrew gave up his role as Britain's business ambassador, promoting British interests abroad.

Andrew and Epstein reportedly met in the late 1990s, introduced by Maxwell, daughter ofdisgraced media mogul Robert Maxwell.

In June 2000, the Daily Mail reported that Epstein and Maxwell were among the guests at Windsor Castle at an event dubbed "Dance of the Decades," which celebrated a number of royals' birthdays, including Prince William, who had turned 18 that evening.

Later that same year, the Mail on Sunday reported that Andrew threw a birthday party for Maxwell at Sandringham, the queen's country estate, to which Epstein was also invited. Maxwell and Epstein were also snapped on a pheasant shoot at the estate.

In 2001, the prince reportedly vacationed with Epstein in Thailand, where Andrew was photographed on a yacht with several topless women.

Andrew's ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson - widely known here as Fergie - was also tangled up with Epstein, having accepted £15,000 pounds ($18,000) from him to help pay off her debts. She later said it was a "gigantic error of judgment."

She told the Evening Standard in 2011: "Once again my errors have compounded and rebounded and also inadvertently impacted on the man I admire most in the world, the duke."

In a post-#MeToo era, it may prove difficult for a powerful man accused of sexual misconduct to bat away the accusations - even if he is a royal. A number of British lawmakers are now calling for a new investigation of Prince Andrew's ties to Epstein.

"We are talking about the trafficking of children," Jess Phillips, a member of Parliament from the opposition Labour Party, told the Daily Mirror. "This is very serious and authorities should learn from the past in ignoring such allegations."

Christopher Wilson, a British journalist and royal biographer who has spent decades following the family, said a rally of support was typical.

"The Palace, as they always do in a crisis, shut right down and say as little as possible in case it can be used against them later," Wilson wrote in an e-mail. "I'd stick my neck out and say that, even if he is completely implicated, wheels-within-wheels will stop him from being arrested and tried."

"The Royal family has far more influence than you see," Wilson added.

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