Prince Andrew under fresh scrutiny after Maxwell arrest

London (AFP) –


Ghislaine Maxwell's arrest on sex trafficking charges in the United States as part of the Jeffrey Epstein scandal again throws a deeply uncomfortable spotlight on Britain's Prince Andrew.

The once popular royal has seen his reputation shredded by his friendship with the late billionaire Epstein, who died in prison last August, to the point where it may never recover.

Maxwell's arrest on Thursday means Andrew -- once dubbed Queen Elizabeth II's favourite son -- will face fresh scrutiny, as he did after defending his association with the convicted paedophile.

The 60-year-old royal's legal team on Friday made a first attempt to offset the fallout from Maxwell's arrest, saying he was "bewildered" at claims he was stonewalling detectives.

The US authorities said they would "welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk to us" but has insisted he has already offered to do so.

In June, his lawyers accused investigators of misleading the public, after they said he was trying to "falsely portray himself... as eager and willing to cooperate".

In the same month, newspapers reported he had sent pizzas to a charity helping victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.

- PR disaster -

But any PR attempts to portray him as unwittingly caught up in the scandal is unlikely to wash with a sceptical public who were scathing of his attempts at self-defence last year.

In a BBC interview late last year, Prince Andrew denied having sex with one of the complainants, who said she was 17 at the time and allegedly trafficked by Epstein.

The interview was widely seen as a PR disaster. Andrew, eighth in line to the throne, was criticised for arrogance and a lack of compassion for Epstein's victims.

Businesses and charities quickly distanced themselves from his projects and he stepped back from frontline royal duties.

He has also faced constant ridicule for countering a claim that he had been "profusely sweating" during the alleged encounter, saying he could not because of a medical condition.

"Bet you're sweating now, Andy," The Sun tabloid said in a front-page headline on Friday.

- Fallen hero -

Born on February 19, 1960, at Buckingham Palace, Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward Windsor was the third child and second son of the queen and her husband, Prince Philip.

His elder brother is heir to the throne Charles, Prince of Wales.

As a young man, Andrew was seen as one of the world's most eligible bachelors and was dubbed "Randy Andy" by the tabloid press before settling down with Sarah Ferguson in 1986.

The couple -- who took the title the Duke and Duchess of York after their marriage -- had two daughters, Beatrice and Eugenie.

Maxwell and Epstein were reportedly guests at Beatrice's 18th birthday party held at Windsor Castle in 2006.

Andrew and flame-haired "Fergie" divorced in 1996 but are said to have remained on good terms.

Following their split, Andrew has been snapped sunbathing with topless women in Thailand and at a so-called "hookers and pimps" party with Maxwell.

Andrew served as a Royal Navy helicopter pilot during the 1982 Falklands War with Argentina, and returned home to a hero's welcome.

But that goodwill has been long lost.

He left the navy in 2001 and became a special government trade envoy, earning a new nickname -- "Airmiles Andy" -- as he jetted around the world at taxpayers' expense.

Questions were also asked about his judgement after links to the families of various dictators, and he faced repeated claims of being brash, arrogant and rude.

- Epstein link -

But it is his link to Epstein, who was found guilty in 2008 of paying young girls for massages, which have hit hardest -- and potentially damning photo evidence.

The Epstein scandal resurfaced in 2011 when a photograph emerged of the prince with one of the complainants.

Andrew has suggested the photo -- reportedly taken at Maxwell's London home -- could have been doctored.

Another photo showed him walking with Epstein in New York's Central Park in December 2010, a year after he left prison.

And it was in last November's notorious interview that he revealed he had last met Maxwell the year before.

Asked if he had quizzed the socialite over her dealings with Epstein, the prince answered: "If there are questions that Ghislaine has to answer, that's her problem, I'm afraid.

"I'm not in a position to be able to comment one way or the other."