Belfast Telegraph

Under fire Andy will feel at home among Davos elite

By Eamonn McCann

It seems that Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, defied some of his most senior courtiers by deciding to travel to the ski resort of Davos in Switzerland this week for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

He has been slotted in to speak tomorrow morning about his Pitch@Palace scheme which aims to "provide a path to success" for young entrepreneurs.

This will be the prince's first public outing since January 2, when court papers were filed in Florida alleging that he had had sex with an under-age girl introduced to him by multi-billionaire sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein. The prince vehemently denies the allegation.

The suggestion of a sex-ring servicing a super-elite first came to light 10 years ago when the stepmother of high school student Virginia Roberts told Florida police that the then-17-year-old had claimed to have had sex with a middle-aged man in return for money. The stepmother had questioned the girl after her teacher had found $300 in her purse. She said the girl had told her she'd been having sex for money for three years.

The Florida authorities have since identified around 40 other potential victims of Epstein's operation. Their accounts are said by US Attorney Ann Marie Villafana to be "numerous and overlapping". The youngest victims were three 12-year-old French schoolgirls, said to have been given to Epstein as a birthday present.

Buckingham Palace has insisted that any suggestion of impropriety by the prince is "categorically untrue". Earlier this month it declined to answer questions from The Observer about reported encounters between Andrew and Epstein.

Ten days ago the paper reported that these encounters, which it said were corroborated by the flight logs for Epstein's private planes, had taken place over more than a decade at venues including Windsor Castle and the Queen's estate at Sandringham, Norfolk. The pair are said to have flown to Saint-Tropez to have dinner together and to have enjoyed holidays in Thailand. Andrew has been pictured in Thailand surrounded by topless women.

He has also been pictured with his arm around Ms Roberts, apparently at the London home of Ghislaine Maxwell, daughter of the late publishing tycoon and fraudster Robert Maxwell.

Five years ago Epstein pleaded guilty to a single charge of procuring a minor for prostitution and served 13 months in prison. His lawyers continue to negotiate on civil claims from others of the 40 accusers. Released in 2009, Epstein has been shunned by some of those who formerly craved his company.

On the other hand, just as many seem to continue to hold him in high esteem. The New York Daily News reported last Thursday that Epstein "continues to live the high life and rub elbows with the elite".

He still enjoys travelling the world in his personal Boeing 727, and owns "a helicopter, a fleet of luxury cars, a Paris apartment, a Palm Beach mansion, the 7,500-acre Zorro Ranch in New Mexico, a 78-acre private island in the US Virgin Islands and a 40-room Upper East Side mansion with a statue of a defecating dog."

He continues to chair meetings of the Jeffrey Epstein VI Foundation, which makes regular charitable donations to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine and New York Junior League Tennis.

In a Press release last July, Epstein highlighted his continued association with Harvard University, to which he once gave $35m.

Asked by the Daily News whether it proposed to continue its relationship with Epstein, Harvard responded: "Out of respect for our donors' privacy, the university does not share that information."

In 2012 Epstein hosted a conference on the future of education on his private island, with speakers including three Nobel Laureates and Stephen Hawking.

Relieved as he might be that such very good friends have stuck by him, Epstein will surely be especially appreciative of the loyalty of Prince Andrew.

Two years after his release from jail, the procurer of child prostitutes and the royal prince were pictured by a News of the World photographer strolling contentedly together in Central Park.

The News of the World died of shame. Some don't do shame.

Epstein, from an unremarkable background in Brooklyn, became fabulously wealthy in just a few years while working for Bear Stearns, the finance house which helped crash the world economy when it choked on its own greed in 2008.

Which brings us back to Davos, where the Swiss armed forces have had to open up a military base to accommodate the 1,700 private jets bringing the creme de la creme of the global elite together to discuss, according to Newsweek on Monday, "terrorism, the central banks and growing economic inequality".

What a laugh they will have. Where else in the world would Andrew feel so at home?

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