Monday, October 3, 2022

Opinion: The Prince Andrew question the Queen needs to answer

Prince Andrew to settle lawsuit with Epstein accuser. Video / MSNBC

OPINION:

Prince Andrew has agreed to settle in the civil sex abuse case brought against him by Virginia Giuffre, raising one very thorny question.

There is only one question today when it comes to the sordid tale of Prince Andrew: How much?

How much money has the disgraced former frontline royal agreed to pay to Virginia Giuffre, nee Roberts, to settle the civil sex abuse case she had brought against him in New York?

There was a certain inevitability that things would go this way in recent weeks, with a steady drumbeat of reports out of London that Andrew might be looking to head off the PR disaster of a trial by getting out the check book.

Likewise, last month Giuffre’s lawyer, legal powerhouse David Boies, gave an interview signaling their side’s willingness to meet at the negotiation table, saying “if you had a settlement that was large enough to be, in effect, a vindication, then it’s something we would obviously look at”.

Prince Andrew has agreed to pay Virginia Giuffre to settle the civil sex abuse case she brought against him.  Photo / Getty Images
Prince Andrew has agreed to pay Virginia Giuffre to settle the civil sex abuse case she brought against him. Photo / Getty Images

In the hours since the news broke, various figures have been bandied about in terms of how much money Andrew will have agreed to front up to bring this debacle to a close, but the most credible figure comes from the Telegraph which is reporting that in excess of $24 million (£12m) will go to Giuffre and her charity.

Prince Andrew has agreed to pay Virginia Giuffre to settle the civil sex abuse case she brought against him.  Photo / Getty Images
Prince Andrew has agreed to pay Virginia Giuffre to settle the civil sex abuse case she brought against him. Photo / Getty Images

But, despite the astronomical number, don’t be fooled for a second – Buckingham Palace and the house of Windsor are far from out of the woods yet when it comes to the Andrew debacle.

Think of things this way: All that happened on Wednesday is that the royal family has put out the most immediate and dangerous fire. While a headline-dominated trial, right smack bang in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee year, has now been prevented, this is all still a red-hot highly combustible situation.

Let’s stay with the looming money question.

Andrew might have spent years cosying up to autocrats with nine-figure fortunes to their names but the former failed trade envoy has reportedly very little money to his own name. Earlier this year the legal dispute (yes, another one) over the $34m Swiss chalet which he and his ex-wife (and current roommate) Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York had purchased in 2014 was finalised, meaning they could finally offload the gauche real estate albatross.

The accepted wisdom was that they were forced into this sale to liquidate cash to help foot the Duke’s astronomical bills in both the US and the UK. However, given they are reported by the Daily Mail to have purchased the property using a $24.6m mortgage and had promised to pay the difference in cash and interest to the previous owner (and which they only reportedly did earlier this year), how much actual equity they had in taste-free Chalet Helora would seem to be minute.

Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, at the Ascot Racecourse on June 21, 2019. Photo / Getty Images
Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, at the Ascot Racecourse on June 21, 2019. Photo / Getty Images

So let’s just say what we are all thinking: There is every chance that the millions and millions of dollars which will now go to Giuffre will not really come from Andrew but the Queen’s coffers. And this is nothing short of an object disaster for the royal family.

(According to the joint statement put out today, along with a payout to Giuffre, Andrew will be making a “substantial donation to Giuffre’s charity in support of victims’ rights”.)

We now have Her Majesty having reportedly used the income she draws from the Duchy of Lancaster having gone to pay a woman who has accused her own son of raping her when she was a teenager. (To be clear, Andrew has always strenuously denied Giuffre’s claims.)

If the Queen paid out Virginia Giuffre then it's a disaster for the royal family.  Photo / Getty Images
If the Queen paid out Virginia Giuffre then it’s a disaster for the royal family. Photo / Getty Images

The optics of this are abysmal.

In January, the Times reported that there was “deep unease in royal circles that the Queen’s personal funds could potentially be used towards a settlement with Giuffre.”

“What does it look like if the Queen’s money is used to settle sex abuse abuse?” a royal source has said. “Holy cow, that’s horrible.”

Adding to the palace’s headache is the fact that this settlement has already, and will likely continue to, ramp up public scrutiny of the Queen’s financial situation. To this day, no one really knows how epicly wealthy the Windsors are, however David McClure, author of The Queen’s True Worth, has pegged Her Majesty’s fortune alone at $815m, not including the income that comes from the Duchy or the $174m she received from the Sovereign Grant last year.

(A quick rundown: The Crown Estate owns the palace, the castle and an estimated $25 billion worth of real estate and land holdings across the UK.Currently, 75 per cent of the revenue those holdings generate goes to the British government with the remainder forming While none of that Grant money goes to personal expenses such as paying for Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge’s mumsy floral dress collection or keeping Princess Anne in industrial cans of hairspray, it is still money that could be going to the crumbling National Health Service or to pay for more teachers.)

The Queen and Prince Andrew (left) attend church on January 19, 2020. Prince Andrew (right) doesn't have vast amounts of personal wealth to pay the settlement.  Photos / Getty Images
The Queen and Prince Andrew (left) attend church on January 19, 2020. Prince Andrew (right) doesn’t have vast amounts of personal wealth to pay the settlement. Photos / Getty Images

The very last thing that the 95-year-old would want right now is fresh focus on the very sticky question of where and how she gets her money especially the fact that the UK Treasury forgoes more than $161m of Crown Estate income (that is , the money that makes up the Grant) and which instead goes to pay for the upkeep of Crown properties including Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castles and which are occupied by one family only.

Beyond the financial mess here, there is the reputational stain that will never, ever come off the royal family.

The Queen might have finally, years too late in my opinion, stripped her son of his use of his HRH, remaining patronages and his honorary military titles in January but he is still His Royal Highness The Prince Andrew, The Duke of York, Earl of Inverness and Baron Killyleagh. He is still a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order and Royal Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, the highest order of chivalry, and one of the four Counselors of State, that is, those most senior members of the royal family who can be called upon to perform official duties of the monarchy.

He is still very much in the line of succession, albeit has long since been shunted down the ladder from official spare to the ninth spot.

Likewise, he continues to live in a grace-and-favour 31-room mansion in Windsor for which he pays a peppercorn rent of about $506-per-week under the terms of a 75-year leave which includes no provisions for any sort of rent review.

No public statement has ever been made on whether, despite officially now being a private citizen, he will lose his taxpayer-funded police protection.

Buckingham Palace might have put out a statement saying that Andrew is now a “private citizen” but for god’s sake, the man still enjoyed every single shiny trapping of royal life there is.

The palace can throw around the words “private citizen” as much as their pinstriped hearts’ desire but nothing will ever undo the fact that a Prince of Great Britain has now spent millions of pounds (of someone’s money) to deal with that he raped a sex trafficking victim when she was only a few years older than his own daughter. (To be clear, Andrew has always strenuously denied Ms Giuffre’s claims.)

Prince Andrew, Virginia Giuffre, and convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell.  Photo / US District Court, Southern District of New York
Prince Andrew, Virginia Giuffre, and convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell. Photo / US District Court, Southern District of New York

Nor can anything ever change the fact that it took until 2022, nearly two and a half years after the death of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, for Andrew to express regret over the situation or anything even verging on humility.

Despite today’s events, he has still never apologised for his continued friendship with Epstein, even after the financier was on the sex offender’s register.

He has still never apologised for spending several nights under the same roof as a man who was, at that point in time, a convicted paedophile.

Andrew vowed to clear his name, which he has failed to do. (To be clear here, the settlement is by no means an admission of guilt.)

In 2019 he promised “to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations.” He has never spoken to the FBI.

Wednesday’s settlement news might draw a line under legal proceedings and might mean the threat of a trial during the Jubilee year has been doused but nothing will ever undo the damage the Andrew debacle and the palace’s dismal handling of it have done to the monarchy’s, and especially the Queen’s, image.

In about six weeks, on March 29, the entire, titled lot of Windsor will gather at Westminster Abbey for a service of thanksgiving for the life of Prince Philip and as a family, rather than official, event, Andrew will be right there in the thick of it. Sure, efforts might be made to keep the radioactive royal away from his mother or Prince Charles or Prince William, but just to drag a cliche here, the pictures will paint a thousand words. Andrew is and will always be one of them.

• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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Nation World News Desk
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