Under-fire Prince Andrew 'must decide on trade role'

7th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain's business minister said Monday it was up to Prince Andrew to decide whether to continue as trade envoy amid calls for him to quit following revelations about his links with a sex offender.

Business Secretary Vince Cable denied ministers would downgrade the prince's unpaid role but said there would be "conversations" with him about his future.

He was speaking after a weekend of newspaper revelations about Andrew's links to Jeffrey Epstein, a wealthy US businessman who served jail for soliciting underage prostitutes.

The revelations threaten to cause embarrassment for the palace just weeks before the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton on April 29, when Andrew, as the groom's uncle, will be expected to take a prominent role.

Cable denied newspaper reports that Andrew's role would be downgraded.

But he told BBC radio: "He is a volunteer, he has offered to perform these roles, and I think it is down to him essentially to judge the position he wants to be in.

"Obviously there are conversations which will take place with him about what he is to do in future. That is simply a matter of managing the relationship."

Andrew was reportedly a frequent guest at Epstein's home in Florida and newspapers have published a photograph of him with his arm around 17-year-old Virginia Robert, reportedly an erotic masseuse who worked for Epstein.

There is no suggestion that Andrew himself has done anything wrong, but the relationship with Epstein is likely to be highly embarrassing for the palace.

It is not the first time Andrew, Queen Elizabeth II's second son, has courted controversy.

He is already under pressure for giving hospitality at Buckingham Palace to Sakher el-Materi, the son-in-law of Tunisia's deposed president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali.

The prince has previously come under fire for his ties to a billionaire from Kazakhstan who bought his home for way over the asking price.

Although Andrew volunteers for his trade role, he receives 249,000 pounds a year from the queen and ran up expenses of about 140,000 pounds in 2009. In the past his use of private jets won him the nickname "Airmiles Andy".

Former minister Chris Bryant, a lawmaker with the opposition Labour party, said it was time for him to quit his role.

"I think we should be dispensing with his services. I think the charge list against him now that he is a bit of an embarrassment," he told the BBC.

© 2011 AFP

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