Duke of York risks losing ambassador role because of Timur Kulibayev and Saif Gaddafi

Let us imagine, for a moment, that Britain's special representative for international trade and investment is not Prince Andrew.

Would that person still be in the job if he behaved as the fourth in line to the throne does?

For ten years, the prince's official role has been to suck up to international businessmen on behalf of Britain.


In that time, the line between his official schmoozing on the nation's behalf, and his networking among the rich on his own behalf, has become alarmingly blurred.

Dubious figures, inevitably wealthy, fill his address book of close friends, from the roistering Saif Gaddafi – who is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his murderous dictator father – to Timor Kulibayev, billionaire son-in-law of the President of Kazakhstan.

He mysteriously paid £3million over the £12million asking price for Sunninghill in Windsor Great Park, a house that the prince had been unable to sell for five years (and which now stands empty and overgrown).

But then, everyone who knows Andrew well is aware he is obsessed with money. And this, presumably, is what initially drew him into the unsavoury company of Jeffrey Epstein.

The American is not just any old billionaire. He also happens to be a convicted paedophile, who has to report to the police in his native New York every three months.

Former friends such as President Bill Clinton have sensibly removed themselves from Epstein's company.

So has Leslie Wexner, the U.S. clothing billionaire who was Epstein's mentor and principal patron.

But to Britain's shame, Prince Andrew clings on. Before Christmas he and the child sex pervert were pictured walking and chatting casually together in New York's Central Park.

And now it emerges that apart from Epstein laying on glittering parties (with lots of women) for his friends, he even brought the young girl he kept closest to him for sexual favours across the Atlantic to London.

The reason he brought her over: to ensure his friend the prince enjoyed himself.

The girl was Virginia Roberts, who had been Epstein's personal masseuse for two years and was 17 when he brought her over to see Andrew.

Although she and Andrew were left alone together, there is no evidence she offered any sexual comforts to the prince, now 51.

Nonetheless, Andrew was photographed with his hand round her bare midriff. Also in the picture was the woman who introduced the prince to Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell, 49.

She used to walk out with Epstein but these days enjoys an unofficial role as his social fixer, which includes recruiting pretty girls to work for him.

On another occasion, Virginia says she and another of Epstein's personal masseuses, Johanna Sjoberg, 21, were sitting on Andrew's lap, one on each knee, as Andrew put his hand on Johanna's breast.

Epstein is the man that a smiling Andrew has ushered into Windsor Castle and Sandringham as the Queen's guest, though this was before his sentencing in 2008 for soliciting sex with girls as young as 14.

In fact, when the police moved in, the prince's friend faced allegations that were even more repellent.

It transpired that his staff toured poor neighbourhoods for young girls who were offered $200 a time to give him a massage involving sex play.

Some girls allegedly came from South America and Europe, including three 12-year-olds brought over from France as a 'birthday present' for Epstein, 58.

This, then, is the sordid figure whose friendship Andrew refuses to jettison. And inevitably, the story of the prince and the paedophile – a 'level 3' sex offender, indicating minors to be at greatest risk – has shot round the world.

It is easy to see just how this episode has damaged Prince Andrew's position as a global ambassador for Britain.

Andrew has had the job since he left the Navy in 2001, and many in the diplomatic service have long been disenchanted with the way he goes about it.

One former senior envoy, writing in this newspaper three months ago, revealed that in the diplomatic community the 'boorish' prince had gone from being Air Miles Andy to being commonly referred to as 'HBH' – His Buffoon Highness.

But the main issue, he said, was the prince using his trade role as a means of 'ploughing his own furrow', and the reluctance of senior officials to point this out for fear of putting their own careers on the line.

Those disclosures followed revelations made public by WikiLeaks that a US ambassador had described Prince Andrew in his role as the UK's special trade representative as 'cocky' and 'rude'.

But it's the company Andrew keeps that is the most troubling aspect of his time as an unpaid ambassador for Britain.

His friendship with the Gaddafis – whose billions, now being frozen by the authorities in Britain and elsewhere, belong to the Libyan people – strayed well over the official line expected at a time when the aged dictator was forming alliances with the West, including Britain.

'He and Saif became incredibly close,' says a mutual friend. 'Both enjoy having a good time and they had fun together. Andrew could open doors with his royal status and Saif could open other doors with his family's money.'

There may well have been good reason for the prince to visit Libya on behalf of Britain, but he made at least three other private visits, unaccompanied by staff, as a personal guest of his friend Saif.

He must have thought the visits worthwhile because on his official trips to foreign states he travelled with a team of six, including equerries, private secretaries and protection officers, as well as a valet with his own 6ft ironing board to ensure the princely trousers were pressed as he liked them.

However, it is Kazakhstan and its post-Soviet Klondike-like fervour to make billions from its oi

l and gas resources that has been Andrew's favourite playground.

That's where he found his buyer for Sunninghill, who made the purchase through an offshore fund registered in the British Virgin Islands, and then left the property to rot.

This, too, is a region ripe with billionaires who love the social cachet of upstaging their rivals by rubbing shoulders with royalty. But in recent years, in addition to his official visits, Andrew has quietly slipped in and out of the region privately on numerous occasions.

One of his high-living back-slapping rich friends there is business and property tycoon Tarek Kaituri, who happens to be a Libyan operating at the most powerful political levels in Kazakhstan. He is a convicted gun smuggler who in 2005 attempt to transport a machine gun from Holland to France. He was arrested in Paris.

Andrew and Kaituri are both known to enjoy a good time. It is hardly surprising that they have been at parties together where there have been plenty of pretty girls.

Another wealthy pal of the prince is David Rowland, the multi-millionaire businessman who was named treasurer of the Conservative Party briefly last year before he decided he was too busy to do the job and quit.

As the Mail revealed, 'Spotty' Rowland has a colourful past and was once described as a 'shady financier' in a House of Commons motion.

Rowland, 65, has given the Tories close to £3million, and Andrew is among those who have been wined and dined by him: in return, perhaps, the prince unveiled a statue at Rowland's mansion on Guernsey.

This is hardly the company a UK trade ambassador should be keeping. So why does Prince Andrew persist?

Of course, whenever his poor judgment, especially in his choice of friends, is mentioned, official voices are raised in his defence explaining that he does what he does – unpaid – for Britain.

No one has yet dared offer that excuse for his closeness to the odious Jeffrey Epstein, in whose company the prince was once photographed in Thailand on a yacht surrounded by topless women.

Prince Andrew's shameless pursuit of rich company can hardly be excused by his own relative poverty on a 'mere' £249,000 annual allowance from the Queen, plus his small naval pension from 22 years' service.

Let us not forget that he lives in Royal Lodge, the Queen Mother's former home in Windsor Great Park, which was given to him by the Queen (and which he refurbished at a cost of £8.5million in 2004). And who lives there with him? His ex-wife.

It is a domestic arrangement which would have made it convenient for Fergie to carry out her end of the bargain when she was filmed agreeing to arrange access to Andrew - to an undercover reporter disguised as a sheik - for £500,000. The prince, of course, was said to know nothing about it.

Is his judgment any better than his ex-wife's? He clings on to his ambassadorial role, just as he clings on to the friendship with Epstein.

But, after publication of the photo with Epstein's 17-year-old masseuse, for how much longer?


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