Mystery of Prince Andrew’s first meeting with Jeffrey Epstein: He says it was ‘some time in 2000’. So why did top lawyer suggest it was at least a year earlier?

So when did the Duke and the man whose friendship would cost him so dear first come into contact? Here, too, there are peculiar inconsistencies.

The Mail has been told by one very well-placed source that Andrew believes his first-ever meeting with Jeffrey Epstein took place over a lunch at the renowned Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building on East 52nd Street, Manhattan, ‘sometime in 2000’.

The event was notable in one other detail. ‘It was the only time the Duke ever saw Epstein wearing a suit,’ the source said. ‘He invariably hung out in trainers, hoodies and sweatshirts. Rather a slob.’

For once, Epstein had dressed to impress. This was an opportunity to add a needy British prince to his impressive collection of former U.S. presidents, Hollywood stars, Silicon Valley hotshots, celebrity lawyers and scientists who enjoyed flights on his business jet and visits to his private Caribbean island, New Mexico ranch and mansions in New York and Palm Beach.

The source said the introduction was arranged not by the Duke’s ex-wife, the Duchess of York, as has often been reported, but by Epstein’s then-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, whom the Duke had known since she was an Oxford undergraduate in the 1980s.

Ms Maxwell is currently remanded in custody in the U.S. charged with assisting Epstein in his offences and perjury. She faces 35 years in jail if convicted but denies all of the allegations.

The source said: ‘It was an entirely straightforward first meeting, which came about because the Duke was migrating from the Navy to his ambassadorial role with UK trade. And he didn’t know much about business.

‘So he put the word out to those whom he considered to be friends: ‘If you know any high-powered business people who I might be able to learn from then please put me in touch with them.’

‘And of course Ghislaine Maxwell was one of his friends, there is no denying that; one of his oldest friends, as much as anyone can be friends with senior members of the Royal Family. And she was dating Epstein at that stage.

‘So that was the genesis of their first meeting. It was a response from Ghislaine Maxwell to his request for help. The Duchess had nothing to do with it. She and Maxwell have never seen eye to eye. They have never liked each other. Maxwell was the Duke’s sole link to Jeffrey Epstein.’

The Duke’s recollection that he and Epstein first met in 2000 is arguably typical of his vague grasp of detail concerning events key to the serious allegations against him.

This carelessness makes his team of crisis managers and legal advisers, headed by the formidable Claire Montgomery QC, wary of submitting him to U.S. Department of Justice demands for face-to-face interviews in London or New York.

His disastrous performance 13 months ago on BBC Newsnight was warning enough that the Duke lacked emotional intelligence and was insufficiently ‘mentally agile’, as one acquaintance termed it, to be put on the spot, however blameless his history. His memory is woeful, apparently.

So how does his recall of the first meeting with Epstein check out?

Certainly, Andrew was photographed in the company of Epstein and Maxwell at an event at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in February 2000. Before the year was out the couple were the Duke’s guests at a Sandringham shooting weekend.

Another attendee who spoke to the Mail described Maxwell as being as animated as Epstein was monosyllabic. But there are other accounts which suggest the Duke and Epstein met earlier than 2000 — at least as early as 1999.

The Duke’s name appears on flight logs for one of Epstein’s aircraft in February 1999, along with a former Miss Russia called Anna Malova. (However, the accuracy of these passenger manifests has been questioned on a number of occasions).

Then this summer, the New York Post quoted a ‘pal’ of Maxwell’s who claimed that it was not Ghislaine but the businesswoman and socialite Lynn Forester de Rothschild who introduced Andrew to Epstein, at a party in the Hamptons in July 1999.

Perhaps another indicator of an introduction predating 2000 — and the motive behind it — is a letter which the Duke allegedly wrote to Epstein’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz. It was to thank Dershowitz for having given him a tour of the Harvard Law School Library. The letter was dated September 30, 1999.

Dershowitz, whom Miss Roberts has also accused of having had underage sex with her — which he furiously denies — has reproduced the text in his autobiography.

Andrew allegedly wrote to him: ‘I look forward to continuing my intellectual challenge with you and Jeffrey E in the coming months.’ Dershowitz commented: ‘He clearly looked to Jeffrey Epstein as somebody who could educate him, whether in matters of finance or anything else, I don’t know.’

Given the continuing haziness of his memory, how to demonstrate a clear and convincing recall of past events was not part of the Duke’s Epstein tutorials, it would appear.

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