With claims of Prince Charles accepting cash donations for his charities, Buckingham Palace burying its report into the handling of bullying allegations against the Duchess of Sussex, and the Duke of York’s former friend Ghislaine Maxwell being jailed for 20 years for sex trafficking, it has been a week of bruising headlines for members of the royal family.
And not for the first time.
The jailing of Maxwell for her part in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal has swung the spotlight back on to Prince Andrew. It comes four months after he settled the US civil sex assault case brought by Virginia Giuffre; a woman he claimed to have no recollection of ever meeting, but who alleges she was forced to have sex with him on three occasions when aged 17 and while trafficked by Epstein.
Andrew’s friendship with Epstein, who was jailed in 2008 for procuring an underage girl for prostitution, eventually led to the royal’s downfall after a catastrophic BBC Newsnight interview in which he failed to apologise for their friendship and which resulted in him stepping back from public life. His exile was complete when the Queen in January stripped him of his HRH title and military patronages ahead of the settlement.
Andrew’s actions also attracted unwelcome publicity back in 2007 when he sold his Sunninghill home for £15m – £3m over the asking price – to Timur Kulibayev, the son-in-law of the then Kazakh president, Nursultan Nazarbayev. There were questions over his dealings with the autocratic regime after it later emerged Andrew’s office tried to secure a crown estate property near Kensington Palace for Kulibayev at the same time.
Buckingham Palace said the sale of Sunninghill Park “was a straight commercial transaction between the trust which owned the house and the trust which bought it”. It added: “There were no side deals and absolutely no arrangement from the Duke of York to benefit otherwise or to commit to any other commercial arrangement.”
Sarah Ferguson apologised for her friendship with Epstein when it emerged she allowed the convicted paedophile to pay £15,000 to one of her creditors. It had been a “gigantic error of judgment” and a “huge mistake”, she admitted.
Another mistake was falling for a sting by the “Fake Sheikh” – the undercover News of the World reporter Mazher Mahmood – and offering to introduce him to Prince Andrew, her ex-husband, then a trade envoy, for £500,000. “Look after me and he’ll look after you,” she was filmed in 2010 telling Mahmood, who was posing as a businessman. “You’ll get it back tenfold. I can open any door you want.” Andrew knew nothing about the £500,000 proposed deal. The duchess was “devastated” and “regretful” after photographs, a transcript and video footage of her making the offer were published.
Sophie was another victim of the Fake Sheikh, though there is no suggestion she tried to sell access to husband, Prince Edward. She was humiliated after being caught out in 2001 while running her PR business. Palace officials would find it difficult to brush aside allegedly disparaging comments made by the countess about figures such as the then prime minister, Tony Blair, and his chancellor, Gordon Brown, as well as Prince Charles and Camilla.
His charities have been the cause of recent headaches. This week’s allegations that he accepted €3m in cash from a Qatari sheikh between 2011 and 2015, paid to the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund, raised eyebrows, though no illegality is alleged and Clarence House says all correct processes were followed.
However, the Metropolitan police are investigating the “cash for honours” allegations linked to another of his charities, the Prince’s Foundation. It is claimed it offered to help a Saudi millionaire obtain a knighthood and UK citizenship in exchange for generous donations. Charles denies knowing anything about cash for honours, but says he will help police with their inquiries.
National Archives documents, revealed this week, concerning a leasehold reform act that became law in 1993, allegedly show Charles applying pressure on elected ministers to ensure an exemption to prevent his own tenants from having the right to buy their own homes.
The monarch is alleged to have successfully lobbied the government to change a draft law in order to conceal her “embarrassing” private wealth from the public, according to documents. Again found in the National Archives, they allegedly reveal that her private lawyer in 1973 put pressure on ministers to alter proposed legislation to prevent her shareholdings from being disclosed to the public. Evidence of the Queen’s lobbying of ministers was uncovered in a Guardian investigation last year into the royal family’s use of an arcane parliamentary procedure known as Queen’s consent to secretly influence the formation of British laws.
Buckingham Palace and the government say Queen’s consent is a “purely formal” part of the parliamentary process and is granted by the monarch as a matter of course. The palace has said that “consent is always granted by the monarch where requested by government” and that “this process does not change the nature of any such bill”.