Queen’s Jubilee Year Just Started, but Bad News Hasn’t Stopped for Royals
LONDON — In a royal family where scandal seems to rotate among its members with nearly metronomic regularity, one might have predicted that Tuesday’s news that Prince Andrew had settled a sexual abuse lawsuit against him would soon be followed by a fresh, troubling disclosure about another royal.
Sure enough, not 24 hours later, London’s Metropolitan Police announced an investigation into allegations that a charity led by Prince Charles offered to help with a knighthood and British citizenship for a wealthy Saudi in return for a donation. A spokesman for Charles insisted that he had no knowledge of any deal.
For Queen Elizabeth II, it was a fraught start to a year that is supposed to celebrate her seven decades on the throne. And yet for all the questions surrounding the Prince’s Foundation — which have already led to the resignation of its chief executive — the downfall of Prince Andrew is likely to leave a more lasting stain on the House of Windsor.
While Andrew, the queen’s second son, did not admit guilt in the settlement, he was forced to commend Virginia Giuffre, who accused him of raping her when she was a teenager, for her bravery in coming forward. He also agreed to pay her a sum that London newspapers reported to be more $13 million.
“We are in new waters,” said Ed Owens, a historian who has written about the relationship between the media and the monarchy. “This kind of case has never been brought against a member of the royal family. That’s why we’re witnessing the family having so much trouble moving on from this.”
The prospect of days of unsavory testimony from Ms. Giuffre about her experiences with Andrew was evidently so sobering that it persuaded the prince and the royal family to put an end the case, at very high cost in money and reputation, even after Andrew, 61, had vowed he would fight to clear his name.
For all the differences, the troubles of Andrew and Charles both raise murky questions about money and how it moves in the opaque world of royalty. Who will pay Andrew’s settlement remains a mystery: analysts who track the family’s wealth say it is unlikely that he could pay it without help from the queen or others.
In the case of Charles, the question is whether his onetime closest adviser, Michael Fawcett, offered a Saudi billionaire, Mahfouz bin Mahfouz, help with his application for British citizenship, as well as a knighthood, while he was also soliciting him for adonation of 10 million pounds ($13.5 million). Mr. Mahfouz has denied any wrongdoing.
“It’s bringing to light the secrecy and silence that exists over the royal finances,” Mr. Owens said. “The fact that there is this lack of transparency is going to become increasingly difficult in this social media-driven world. People are more sensitive to the obfuscation.”
The Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday reported the allegations about a “cash-for-honors” deal at the Prince’s Foundation last year, the charity commissioned an independent investigation, and Mr. Fawcett resigned as its chief executive.
The police said on Wednesday that they had enough evidence to open a formal investigation of whether the foundation violated a 1925 law that prohibits the sale of peerages or other royal honors. It is using the same unit that is investigating whether social gatherings at Downing Street violated coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
If Scotland Yard uncovers evidence that Charles knew about a potential quid-pro-quo, royal experts said, that would pose a grave risk to the 73-year-old heir to the throne. Even without the involvement of Charles, it could cast a harsh spotlight on the aggressive methods of the prince’s lieutenants.
For the 95-year-old queen, the threat to Charles is, in some ways, an even bigger headache than Andrew’s disgrace. With her own recent health problems and her Platinum Jubilee celebrations looming, she has been moving to put the family’s affairs in order. She declared recently, for example, that when Charles ascends to the throne, his wife, Camilla, should be known as queen.
But this week has served as a reminder of her fragility. On Wednesday, when two visitors to Windsor Castle asked her how she was, the queen, smiling and clutching a walking stick, gestured to her legs, and said, “Well, as you see, I can’t move.”
“The clock is ticking,” said Peter Hunt, a former royal correspondent for the BBC. “They’re desperately trying to clear the path for Charles. Now, on that path is suddenly strewn Michael Fawcett.”
Still, cash-for-honors scandals are a familiar, if unseemly, fixture in British politics. Both the Conservative and Labour parties have been ensnared in them. The allegations against Andrew, by contrast, are of a wholly different nature — amplified by the #MeToo movement and darkened by the prince’s association with the financier and convicted sex offender, Jeffrey Epstein.
Understand the Allegations Against Prince Andrew
Royal troubles. A sexual-abuse lawsuit against Prince Andrew, that has brought under scrutinty his ties to Jeffrey Epstein, has cast a shadow over the British royal family. Here’s what to know:
Controversial friendships. Prince Andrew’s woes are largely the result of his association with Mr. Epstein, the late financier accused of sex trafficking, and Ghislaine Maxwell, who was recently found guilty of conspiring with Mr. Epstein to recruit, groom and abuse underage girls.
The sexual-misconduct allegations. The accusations against Prince Andrew first surfaced in 2019, after Mr. Epstein was arrested on federal charges. One accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, claimed that Mr. Epstein had trafficked her to Prince Andrew, and that the prince had raped her when she was 17.
The fallout. Prince Andrew has repeatedly denied the accusations. After a disastrous BBC interview in which he tried to explain his friendship with Mr. Epstein, the prince announced he was indefinitely stepping away from public life in November 2019.
The lawsuit. In August 2021, Ms. Giuffre filed a lawsuit against Prince Andrew in federal court in Manhattan, repeating her accusations. His lawyers tried to get the case dismissed, but on Jan. 12 a judge allowed the suit to proceed.
The settlement. Prince Andrew settled the lawsuit for an undisclosed amount on Feb. 15, just weeks before he was scheduled to sit for a deposition. He did not admit to any of the accusations against him in the statement announcing the deal.
Having failed to persuade a judge to dismiss the case, Andrew faced the prospect of being interviewed under oath by Ms. Giuffre’s lawyers. In her suit, she claimed that the prince had abused her, including subjecting her to “involuntary sexual intercourse,” at Mr. Epstein’s houses in New York and in the Caribbean.
“The imperative for Andrew was to settle before the deposition was taken in late March,” said Daniel Taylor, a lawyer in London who has represented clients in privacy cases against the tabloids for phone hacking.
The fact that Andrew settled the case seems to have added to the sense of public scorn, even though out-of-court settlements are as common in Britain as they are in the United States. The headlines in London’s tabloids summed up the prevailing disgust.
“His Final Disgrace,” thundered the Sun. “Andrew cuts sex case deal … But there’s no way back,” said the Daily Express.“Royal wrong’un pays out to sex victim he’s never met. As you do,” said the Daily Star, referring to Andrew’s assertion, in a misbegotten 2019 interview with the BBC, that he had “no recollection” of ever meeting Ms. Giuffre.
The Star ran the headline over a now-familiar photo taken in a London townhouse, which appeared to show Andrew with his arm around the girl’s bare waist, as Mr. Epstein’s former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, smiled in the background.
Buckingham Palace has banished Andrew to internal exile, stripping him of his honorary military titles and his official duties, and warned there would be no rehabilitation. But it left unclear whether the queen, who earns more than $30 million a year from vast private real estate holdings, would help pay the settlement.
“The short answer is, he doesn’t have enough,” said David McClure, the author of “Royal Legacy,” a book on the monarchy’s finances. “The queen does have enough. And paying 10 million pounds is a relatively small amount compared to the reputational damage that could be done to the family with a court case.”