LONDON -- As Britain prepares for a monumental wedding party, dark clouds have gathered over the royal household owing to a new round of alleged misdemeanours by Prince Andrew in his role as trade ambassador.
Instead of flashing Kate Middleton's happy smile and news about her forthcoming wedding to Prince William on their front pages, British newspapers have been focusing on Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, and his liaisons with tycoons, despots and pretty girls.
In his role as Britain's Special Representative for International Trade and Investment, Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, has won ample praise from successive governments for his promotion of British business interests around the world.
But critics allege that 51-year-old Andrew has presided over a "catalogue of blunders and misjudgments" in his dealings with the rich and powerful over the past 10 years.
His extravagant lifestyle and lavish travel arrangements have earned him the nickname "Air Miles Andy." The prince is also known as "Randy Andy" for his entanglements with pretty women.
The latest revelations -- about his links with Jeffrey Epstein, a U.S. billionaire jailed in 2008 for soliciting an under-age girl for prostitution, and his alleged friendship with the teenage masseuse in question -- have renewed the row.
The young woman, who testified as a witness in U.S. court proceedings against Epstein, alleged that it had been her duty to allow herself to be "sexually exploited" by Epstein's friends, which "included royalty," the Daily Telegraph quoted from court documents.
It has also emerged that Epstein, who met Prince Andrew as recently as last December, accepted the prince's plea to provide 15,000 pounds ($24,000) to help Sarah Ferguson -- whom Prince Andrew divorced in 1996 -- to help her reduce her mounting debt burden.
On Monday, Ferguson said accepting the money had been a "terrible, terrible error of judgment."
Last year Ferguson, the Duchess of York, fell victim to a highly-embarrassing tabloid newspaper sting in which she offered to sell access to her ex-husband for 500,000 pounds.
Her ex-husband met the "most amazing people" and would open many doors, Ferguson told the undercover reporters, while accepting a down payment of 27,000 pounds.
She later apologized for her "serious error of judgment" and said the Duke knew nothing of her actions.
The latest revelations follow a long line of controversy.
They include Andrew's friendship with Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, the son of disgraced Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, in the run-up to a 2004 groundbreaking visit to Libya by former British premier Tony Blair.
It was also reported that Prince Andrew entertained the son-in-law of the ousted Tunisian president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, just three months before the revolutionary changes in the North African country.
In 2007, Prince Andrew sold Sunninghill Park, a mansion given to him by his mother as a wedding gift, to controversial Kazakhstan billionaire Timur Kulibayev.
The oil magnate reportedly paid 3 million pounds above the asking price of 12 million for the property in Surrey, near London.
Andrew, a frequent visitor to Kazakhstan, has often been seen in the company of Goga Ashkenazi, the Kasakh socialite who has a son with Kulibayev.
The latest revelations about Prince Andrew have come as an embarrassment not only to the royal family, but also to the Conservative-led British government of David Cameron, which has indicated that "enough is enough."
Officially, the government Monday assured Prince Andrew of its continued support in his voluntary role as trade ambassador. But officials made clear they don't want to hear any new damaging revelations.
Cameron, clearly attempting to allay speculation about an imminent end to the prince's role, said: "We fully support Prince Andrew in his role as trade envoy. There is no review of his role."
As an unnamed cabinet minister put it to the Daily Mail: "The Royals go on and on, that's what they do. They are not sackable."
(c) 2011, Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany).
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