Prince Andrew under growing pressure to step down as envoy
Duke's links to former Soviet republic accused of torture add fuel to row
Published 11/03/2011 | 05:00
NEW revelations about Prince Andrew's trade links have cast further doubts on his future as trade envoy last night.
The row over his role as commercial ambassador intensified after it emerged he lobbied an MP to help British business in a former Soviet republic accused of torturing protesters.
The new claims came after it was reported that his friend billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted paedophile, landed his private jet at an RAF fighter base during a visit to Sandringham.
The prince met Mark Field, Conservative MP for Cities of London and Westminster and chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Azerbaijan on Monday to highlight the "tremendous opportunities" in the central Asian autocracy.
Human rights organisation Amnesty International has condemned the oil-rich state for its violence towards and harassment of civil society activists.
Earlier this week the group called on the state's authorities to end their crackdown on protesters who have been inspired by the recent demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa.
Despite growing concern over the duke's business links with foreign dictatorships, he met Mr Field at Buckingham Palace to ask for support in parliament for British business in Azerbaijan, the 'Guardian' reported.
Andrew has visited the country a number of times in an official capacity and is said to have forged ties with its president Ilham Aliyev.
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: "The duke's work in Azerbaijan focuses on oil, gas and energy security issues, all of which have great potential to deliver substantial opportunities for British companies.
"His work there is highly valued and he continues to play a role, at the request of government, in helping to develop trade relations between our two countries."
Andrew has also faced criticism for entertaining the son-in-law of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali at Buckingham Palace.
Meanwhile, the duke faced mounting questions over his links with Epstein, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for soliciting a minor for prostitution.
According to flight logs published in the 'Telegraph', Epstein's Gulfstream flew in to RAF Marham on December 7, 2000, with the billionaire and Andrew's friend Ghislaine Maxwell on board.
Epstein and Ms Maxwell are reported to have stayed at Sandringham as the Duke's guests, before leaving the country two days later. A spokesman for Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
London's 'Evening Standard' newspaper has quoted a royal source as saying the queen has given Andrew, said to be her favourite son, her "full backing".