US prosecutors last night said they would "welcome" the Duke of York's testimony after the FBI arrested Ghislaine Maxwell on sex-trafficking charges linked to Jeffrey Epstein.
Ms Maxwell, a former girlfriend of the disgraced late financier, was picked up in a small town in New Hampshire yesterday morning and charged with helping entice underage girls to travel for sex and with lying to investigators.
The arrest could have significant implications for the duke, who is reported to have been introduced to Epstein in 1999 by his friend Ms Maxwell, and could also affect other high-profile associates of the pair going back decades.
Audrey Strauss, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said yesterday she "would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us".
"We would like to have the benefit of his statement," she added, prompting speculation that the duke may be among those that the investigators will focus on next.
Ms Strauss alleged that Ms Maxwell recruited, groomed and abused victims known to be minors as young as 14 and played a part in trafficking them across America, the UK and France. One of the girls was allegedly groomed and abused in London.
Ms Maxwell appeared via video link at a court hearing in New Hampshire yesterday afternoon, where she was read the charges against her.
Victims of Epstein last night said they were relieved. One claimed: "Now that the ring has been taken down, I know that I can't be hurt anymore."
Ms Maxwell met Epstein in 1991. The couple dated briefly and she introduced him to her wide, influential circle of friends.
Ms Maxwell (58) is central to allegations made by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who has claimed she was trafficked from the US to London and forced to sleep with the duke when she was 17.
The duke himself has always strongly denied the claims, maintaining that he has no recollection of meeting Ms Giuffre. She alleges she was introduced to the duke in Ms Maxwell's London home in March 2001, with a now-infamous photograph of the duke with his arm around the younger woman said to have been taken upstairs at the residence.
The duke is last known to have met Ms Maxwell at Buckingham Palace in the summer of 2019, two weeks after US prosecutors announced they wanted to reopen their investigation into Epstein.
In June, the duke's lawyers said he had offered to speak to investigators "on at least three occasions this year", accusing them of "seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered". A source close to the duke last night said: "The duke's team remains bewildered given that we have twice communicated with the DOJ [US Department of Justice] in the last month and to date, we have had no response."
A former New York prosecutor told 'The Daily Telegraph' that Ms Maxwell may be offered a deal if she had information about the duke.
"They could be putting pressure on," the former prosecutor said. "They knew where she was, they were just building a case." Ms Strauss hinted at such a scenario. "In the event that she were to become a co-operator, I think that we can deal with that," she said.
According to the indictment at the Southern District Court of New York, Ms Maxwell is facing six charges, including enticement and conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, and two counts of perjury. Federal prosecutors said Ms Maxwell would assist in the "grooming of minors for and subjection to sexual abuse".
They alleged that Ms Maxwell was well aware of Epstein's preference for minor girls and that he intended to sexually abuse them.
The indictment accuses Ms Maxwell of luring the girls from 1994 to 1997 by asking them about their lives, schools and families and taking them shopping or to the cinema.
Ms Strauss, who took over the role of acting Manhattan US attorney last month after her predecessor was fired by US President Donald Trump, called Ms Maxwell's alleged acts "the prequel" to Epstein's abuse.
After Ms Maxwell won the girls' trust, it is alleged, she would try to "normalise sexual abuse" by discussing sexual topics or by undressing in front of them or being present when they were undressed. The charges involve three unnamed victims, the youngest of whom was 14.
She faces up to 35 years in prison if convicted of the charges against her.
Ms Maxwell has previously denied knowledge of or involvement in any crimes. (© Daily Telegraph, London)