Dubai: A New York judge has said he will decide “pretty soon” whether to dismiss a sexual assault lawsuit against Britain’s Prince Andrew.
The move comes as Andrew’s lawyers argued that he was protected by a settlement that his accuser signed in 2009.
The hearing is part of a lawsuit filed by a woman who says she was sexually trafficked to the royal by the millionaire Jeffrey Epstein when she was 17.
US District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan did not immediately rule at the end of a video conference, but he made clear that he was not leaning Andrew’s way.
Here’s a closer look at the case and the characters at the centre of it.
What is the case about?
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, 38, also known as Virginia Roberts, sued Prince Andrew in New York in 2021, claiming that the royal, a friend of late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, raped her when she was 17.
The incident allegedly took place at the London home of Ghislaine Maxwell (pronounced with a hard ‘g’ and silent ‘s’ – like ‘ghee’), a British socialite and Epstein’s longtime associate, and at properties owned by Epstein.
The hearing in the civil action filed by Giuffre was held via video conference with the public able to listen in by telephone.
Giuffre alleges that Epstein lent her out for sex with his wealthy and powerful associates, including Andrew, an allegation that Queen Elizabeth II’s second son has repeatedly and strenuously denied.
Royal lawyers argued that Andrew was protected by a settlement that his accuser signed in 2009. Attorney Andrew Brettler told a court hearing that Giuffre had “waived her rights” to sue other defendants in relation to alleged sex crimes committed by Epstein.
Judge Lewis Kaplan did not make an immediate ruling, but appeared to express skepticism at Andrew’s argument, questioning how a third party could enforce an agreement that it didn’t know about when it was signed.
“You’ll have a decision pretty soon, but I’m not going to define that further,” Kaplan said at the end of an hour of oral arguments.
How has Andrew responded?
Andrew’s lawyers have called the lawsuit “baseless” and accused her of seeking a payday. They have argued that Giuffre signed away her right to sue the prince in her 2009 settlement with Epstein.
Andrew, 61, said in an interview in November 2019 that he could not have had sex with Giuffre at Maxwell’s home because he had returned to his house that night after a children’s party.
What is the status of the lawsuit?
Any trial in the civil case would likely begin between September and December 2022, if Andrew and Giuffre do not reach a settlement before then, Reuters reported.
Is Edward protected from being sued by a 2009 settlement between Epstein and Giuffre?
That is what this trial is about. The agreement, under which Epstein paid Giuffre $500,000, was unsealed and became publicly available Monday.
Under that deal, Giuffre agreed to release her claims against "potential defendants," but the judge repeatedly disagreed with arguments that wording prevented her from suing the prince.
Judge Kaplan noted that there could be many interpretations of what constituted a potential defendant, and that the only parties who would know exactly what was intended were Giuffre and Epstein.
David Boies, a lawyer for Giuffre, on Monday called the liability release in the 2009 settlement “irrelevant” to the case against Andrew.
Could the lawsuit harm Andrew legally?
If the case goes to trial and Giuffre wins, Andrew could be ordered to pay Giuffre damages. She has asked for an unspecified amount.
The prince’s reputation already took a hit when Giuffre’s allegations first surfaced. Critics said he failed to address key questions during his November 2019 interview with the BBC, and Andrew stepped down from public duties days after the interview aired.
Could the lawsuit lead to criminal jeopardy for Andrew?
No. Andrew has not been charged criminally, and no criminal charges could result from Giuffre’s lawsuit since it is a civil case.
Andrew repeatedly declined requests by federal prosecutors in the United States for an interview about their probe into Epstein’s sex trafficking, former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said in June 2020, Reuters reported.
Does Andrew’s royal status have any impact on the case?
Diplomats are often entitled to a certain degree of legal immunity in the countries in which they are posted. Heads of state such as Queen Elizabeth II are entitled to a degree of immunity as well.
Andrew does not appear to fit either category, said Craig Barker, a law professor at London South Bank University, Reuters reported.
What do we know about Giuffre?
Virginia Roberts Giuffre first met Maxwell in 2000 at the age of 17, when working as a spa assistant in Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club where Giuffre’s father worked as a maintenance manager.
After being approached by Maxwell and asked if she was interested in massaging, Giuffre was offered a job as a masseuse to Epstein, reports say. According to Giuffre’s claims, Epstein and Maxwell then began grooming her - under the guise that she was training to be a professional massage therapist.
After travelling with Epstein and providing him and his friends with massages and sexual services, Giuffre was allegedly trafficked to Prince Andrew in 2001. Andrew insists the claims are not true.
Later, Giuffre began living a quiet family life in Australia after meeting Robert Giuffre, an Australian martial arts trainer, while at a massage school in Thailand in 2002, reports say.
She then cut off all contact with Epstein and Maxwell – until the first police investigation into Epstein began in 2007.
Despite filing several lawsuits under ‘Jane Doe’, the first public allegation against Epstein from Giuffre came in 2011.
Since then, Giuffre has continued her work in fighting sex trafficking and in seeking justice for survivors of Epstein’s trafficking ring. She has appeared in several documentaries and interviews, including a BBC Panorama special in 2019 and a four-part Netflix series in 2020.
What happened to Epstein and Maxwell?
Epstein died by suicide in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 at the age of 66 while awaiting trial on sex abuse charges.
Maxwell, 60, was convicted on December 29 of sex trafficking and other crimes. The verdict capped a month-long trial featuring sordid accounts of the sexual exploitation of girls as young as 14, told by four women who described being abused as teens in the 1990s and early 2000s at Epstein’s palatial homes in Florida, New York and New Mexico.
Is Giuffre’s lawsuit related to Maxwell’s conviction?
No. Giuffre did not testify in Maxwell’s criminal trial, and her allegations did not form the basis of any of the six sex abuse counts against Maxwell.
What happens to Ghislaine Maxwell next?
Ghislaine Maxwell (pronounced with a hard ‘g’ and silent ‘s’ – like ‘ghee’) needs to be sentenced, but a date has yet to be set. A family statement said an appeal had already been started. And she faces another trial, on two counts of perjury that were spun off from her indictment, AP reported.
What was Maxwell’s relationship with Epstein?
They were romantically involved, but at some point she says she transitioned to being more of an employee, running his household (Epstein had homes all over the place: Palm Beach, Florida, New Mexico, Manhattan, a private island in the US Virgin Islands, Paris). Prosecutors introduced records showing Epstein had paid Maxwell more than $20 million through the years and accused her of functioning as Epstein’s madam, procuring underage girls to satisfy him sexually.
Who is Maxwell’s husband?
A mystery man! She was living with him when she was arrested in New Hampshire, but court documents have not made his name public. He did support her bail attempts, but was never spotted at the trial. She had transferred most of her assets to him, but has also told officials they’re in the process of divorcing.
- With inputs from AP, AFP and Reuters