Prince Andrew
Prince AndrewReuters

Days after Prince Andrew commented on Jeffrey Epstein's accuser in an interview, the Duke of York on Wednesday announced that he will be stepping down from his duties as his "ill-association" with the sex offender has disrupted the royal family's work.

"It has become clear to me over the last few days that the circumstances relating to my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption to my family's work," the statement released by the Buckingham Palace read.

While it isn't clear whether the changes are temporary or permanent, he said: "I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission."

"Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required," he added.

The move comes after Prince Andrew interview with BBC's Newsnight, where he said he has "no recollection" of meeting Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre. "I kick myself for (it) on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the royal family," Andrew said, "and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that," he said.

Virginia Giuffre, earlier named Roberts, had claimed that she was trafficked by Epstein and his accomplice Ghislaine Maxwell into performing sexual acts with him and high profile men. She said she had sexual encounters with men including the Duke of York, Prince Andrew in London, US Virgin Islands and New York in exchange for payments.

Virginia with Prince Andrews
Prince Andrew and Virginia Roberts Giuffre, along with Ghislaine Maxwell.Florida Southern District Court

She accused Epstein of paying her $15,000 after she was coerced into having sexual intercourse with the prince when she was 17. Guiffre and several other women's accounts led to Epstein's conviction under Florida state charges in 2008 of soliciting prostitution and of soliciting an underage girl into prostitution. Investigation revealed that the multimillionaire hedge fund manager, who was friends with Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, used to coerce underage girls into sex on his properties.

Citing a 2001 photo showing her posing with the prince in London, she has repeatedly challenged the Buckingham Palace's denial and held Prince Andrew responsible for being silent over the years despite knowing the number of underage girls who were sex trafficked. "He knows exactly what he's done, and I hope he comes clean about it," she was quoted as saying.

While Epstein served 18 months in jail due to a non-prosecution agreement deal, an FBI probe into the victims and powerful personalities who were complicit in Epstein's sex crimes was dropped. In a widely criticized deal, four of his accomplices were granted immunity from all federal criminal charges. He died by suicide in August at a New York jail after facing fresh child sex trafficking charges.

"Ill-judged association" and backfire

Blaming Epstein's death of having left "many unanswered questions particularly for his victims", Prince Andrew called his association with the sex offender "ill-judged". He said he sympathises with those who have been affected and "wants some form of closure". "I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives."

The Prince has denied association with Epstein's sex scandal on numerous occasions. In an address at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland's Davos in 2015, Andrew publicly denied Giuffre's claims. In August, the prince stated that he used to meet Epstein "infrequently" in 1999 and saw him once or twice each year. He also regretted meeting Epstein after his release from Prison in 2010 and called it "a mistake and an error".

Prince Andrew accuser
Virginia GuiffreScreengrab from NBC show 'Dateline'

The Buckingham Palace has called the allegations "false" and "without foundation". "It is emphatically denied that The Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation," a Palace spokesperson was quoted as saying to CNN.

While the recent BBC interview was intended to clear Andrew's reputation, his apparent lack of remorse for his association with Epstein in the interview did him more damage. Reports claim several charities and universities have reviewed their association with the prince following the recent developments. Major business giants, including Barclays and BT, have also removed themselves from Andrew in the various associations, reported AP.