British duchess 'devastated' by cash-for-access claims

23rd May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Duchess of York was filmed in a sting by a Sunday newspaper apparently trying to sell access to her ex-husband Prince Andrew for 500,000 pounds to a journalist posing as a businessman.

Sarah Ferguson was "regretful" and "devastated by the situation," said her spokeswoman, after a News of the World video showed her meeting one the paper's reporters working undercover.

The weekly tabloid said Ferguson had promised to introduce the journalist to the prince -- Britain's special representative for international trade and investment -- for the equivalent of 575,000 euros or 723,000 dollars.

The paper filmed her allegedly accepting last Tuesday an advance payment of 40,000 dollars (32,000 euros) in cash and it quotes her as saying: "I can open any door you want."

The newspaper said Prince Andrew, the Duke of York -- Queen Elizabeth II's second son -- knew nothing about it.

But Ferguson claimed she had discussed the deal with her former husband, telling the reporter: "Andrew said to me, 'Tell him 500,000 pounds'.

"He knows that he's had to underwrite me up to now because I've got no money. So if you want to meet him in your business, look after me and he'll look after you... you'll get it back tenfold."

She was also filmed explaining that the prince meets "the most amazing people" in his role as special representative.

The couple split in 1996 but have remained close friends. According to the paper, the duchess said of their relationship: "We're the happiest divorced couple in the world."

The paper reported the 50-year-old duchess met the fake businessman on two occasions -- first at a New York hotel and then at the exclusive Mosimann's dining club in London.

It said she was then chauffeured with the reporter to a flat where she was shown on the video apparently shaking on a deal to introduce him to her former husband.

The allegations emerged as Ferguson was expected to arrive in Los Angeles on Sunday to pick up an award for her charity work.

Since Ferguson and the prince separated, she has been dogged by rumours of money troubles which have recently escalated.

It emerged last month she was facing legal action from a law firm over an unpaid bill thought to be as much as 100,000 pounds. Last year her plans to celebrate her 50th birthday were reportedly scaled down due to money concerns.

A company set up in the United States to manage her career there in publishing, public speaking and media work is also expected to close with debts of more than half a million pounds.

Ferguson faced a tough task to build herself a career outside Britain's royal family, but managed to carve herself a niche as a children's author and charity activist.

In 1993, she founded Children in Crisis, an organisation which helps educate youngsters around the world and is a patron of other charities.

© 2010 AFP

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