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Prince Andrew settles lawsuit by sex abuse accuser Virginia Giuffre

Britain's Prince Andrew, Duke of York, looks on during the funeral of Britain's Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth, who died at the age of 99, in Windsor, Britain, April 17, 2021. [Reuters]

Britain's Prince Andrew has settled a U.S. lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre accusing him of sexually abusing her when she was a teenager, potentially sparing him further embarrassment in a lurid case that helped precipitate his fall from grace.

The settlement, which includes an undisclosed payment, was revealed on Tuesday in a filing in Manhattan federal court, where Giuffre had sued the Duke of York last August. The prince did not admit wrongdoing in the settlement.

Giuffre's case had focused on Andrew's friendship with the late Jeffrey Epstein, the financier and sex offender who she said also sexually abused her. The filing said Andrew regrets his past association with Epstein.

In the joint filing, lawyers for Giuffre, 38, and Andrew, 61, said their settlement in principle calls for the prince to make a "substantial donation" to Giuffre's charity in support of victims' rights.

"Prince Andrew has never intended to malign Ms Giuffre's character, and he accepts that she has suffered both as an established victim of abuse and as a result of unfair public attacks," the filing said.

Andrew has denied accusations that he forced Giuffre, who now lives in Australia, to have sex at age 17 more than two decades ago at the London home of Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's mansion in Manhattan and Epstein's private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A trial in the case had been expected to begin late this year. Andrew would have had to give testimony under oath.

"It is known that Jeffrey Epstein trafficked countless young girls over many years," the filing said. "Prince Andrew regrets his association with Epstein and commends the bravery of Ms Giuffre and other survivors in standing up for themselves and others. He pledges to demonstrate his regret for his association with Epstein by supporting the fight against the evils of sex trafficking, and by supporting its victims."

'QUESTION MARK'

The statement represented a marked departure from a 2019 BBC interview in which Andrew, who is Queen Elizabeth's second son, failed to show sympathy toward Epstein's victims and refused to apologize for his friendship with the financier.

The royal family in January removed Andrew's military titles and royal patronages and said he will no longer be known as "His Royal Highness."

Andrew was defending against Giuffre's lawsuit as a private citizen. For now, his legal exposure in the United States to similar claims appears to be over.

Penny Junor, a British royal biographer, called the settlement a "prudent" means to limit further damage to the royal family, but that Andrew's reputation will likely be permanently scarred.

"I fear there is no chance he will come back to public duties," Junor said. "A question mark will always hang over him."

 Buckingham Palace declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the prince declined to comment beyond the court filing. A lawyer for Andrew did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

David Boies, a lawyer for Giuffre, said: "This event speaks for itself."

Andrew faces no criminal charges, and none will result from Giuffre's lawsuit because it was a civil case.

The office of U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in Manhattan has been investigating Epstein's sex trafficking and considered Andrew at least a potential witness, or "person of interest."

Andrew had previously declined the office's interview requests, former U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in June 2020, the month before Maxwell's arrest.

A spokesman for Williams did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

GIUFFRE 'FEARED DEATH'

In court papers in the lawsuit, Giuffre said she "feared death or physical injury to herself or another and other repercussions for disobeying Epstein, Maxwell and Prince Andrew due to their powerful connections, wealth and authority."

She also said that in Manhattan, Maxwell forced her to sit on Andrew's lap as he touched her, and Andrew forced her to engage in sex acts against her will.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan refused to dismiss Giuffre's lawsuit last month, without ruling on its merits. He also said it was premature to decide whether Giuffre's 2009 civil settlement with Epstein also shielded Andrew. Epstein had paid Giuffre $500,000 to end her Florida lawsuit accusing him of sexual abuse, without admitting liability.

Andrew's lawyers had contended that Giuffre's lawsuit was "baseless" and that she was seeking "another payday," after also receiving "millions of dollars" in a 2017 settlement of her civil defamation lawsuit against Maxwell.

Epstein killed himself at age 66 in a Manhattan jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Maxwell, 60, was convicted in December of recruiting and grooming underage girls for Epstein to abuse between 1994 and 2004. She is seeking a new trial.

Giuffre sued Andrew less than a week before the expiration of a New York state law providing a two-year window to sue over child abuse dating back decades.