Queen Elizabeth's son is the subject of an official witness request from U.S. prosecutors investigating disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein

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Prince Andrew, Jeffrey Epstein
Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein
| Credit: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images; Neil Rasmus/Patrick McMullan

Federal prosecutors in New York have reportedly made a formal request through the U.K. to speak with Prince Andrew as part of their criminal investigation into convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The U.S. Department for Justice has submitted a mutual legal assistance (MLA) request to the U.K. Home Office, reports ABC News. An MLA allows cooperation between two countries in the investigation or prosecution of criminal offenses. Prince Andrew is a witness and not the target of the investigation.

If granted, it could see Andrew in court — most likely in Britain — answering written or oral questions about his friendship with the disgraced financier, who was arrested last summer on sex trafficking charges before dying by suicide while in federal custody.

The Home Office said in a statement to PEOPLE, “As a matter of long-standing policy and practice, we neither confirm nor deny the existence of mutual legal assistance requests."

In a statement released Monday, Andrew's legal firm, Blackfords LLP, responded to claims that the royal hasn't been cooperative, saying, "The Duke of York has on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the DOJ. Unfortunately, the DOJ has reacted to the first two offers by breaching their own confidentiality rules and claiming that the Duke has offered zero cooperation. In doing so, they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered."

They added, "Any pursuit of an application for mutual legal assistance would be disappointing, since the Duke of York is not a target of the DOJ investigation and has recently repeated his willingness to provide a witness statement. It is hoped that this third offer has not been the cause of the most recent leak about the Duke of York. We do not intend to make any further public statement at this time as we wish to respect the rules of confidentiality under both English law and the US guidelines."

Prince Andrew
Prince Andrew
| Credit: Mark Cuthbert/UK Press/Getty

Hours after Andrew's legal team released their statement, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman in New York responded, "Today, Prince Andrew yet again sought to falsely portray himself to the public as eager and willing to cooperate with an ongoing federal criminal investigation into sex trafficking and related offenses committed by Jeffrey Epstein and his associates, even though the Prince has not given an interview to federal authorities, has repeatedly declined our request to schedule such an interview, and nearly four months ago informed us unequivocally — through the very same counsel who issues today's release — that he would not come in for such an interview."

The statement concluded, "If Prince Andrew is, in fact, serious about cooperating with the ongoing federal investigation, our doors remain open, and we await word of when we should expect him."

In March, federal prosecutors in New York claimed Andrew had “completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation,” despite earlier statements from Buckingham Palace that has was ready and willing to talk about his relationship with Epstein.

A source tells The Sun, which was first to report that a mutual legal assistance request had been made, “It’s a huge statement of intent from the U.S. and it moves Andrew into the realms of a criminal investigation. It’s also frankly a diplomatic nightmare. The DoJ does not make a request of this nature lightly, especially one involving a senior member of the British Royal Family.”

Prince Andrew formally stepped back from royal duties following his disastrous BBC interview about his ties to Epstein in November. In the statement announcing the news, the Duke of York said: “Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”

In the BBC interview, Andrew discussed his years-long friendship with Epstein and the sexual abuse allegations of Virginia Roberts (now Virginia Giuffre). Giuffre’s accusations, which the prince denies, mentioned coercion to have sex with the royal three times between 1999 and 2002 in London, New York and on a private Caribbean island owned by Epstein, starting when she was just 17 years old.

Giuffre was recently featured on the four-part docuseries Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich on Netflix.