Prince Andrew
© Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Prince Andrew
Federal prosecutors in New York have formally requested through the British government to speak with Prince Andrew as part of their criminal investigation into Jeffrey Epstein's history of sexual abuse, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The request, made under a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, or MLAT, is similar to a subpoena in this case for Prince Andrew's testimony.

It's a rare move to seek an interview like this through MLAT, officials say, and it's focused on making sure the investigation is as thorough as possible.

U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman foreshadowed the move in March when he said he would consider legal action after Prince Andrew's representatives had closed the door to an interview.

"Contrary to Prince Andrew's very public offer to cooperate with our investigation into Epstein's co-conspirators, an offer that was conveyed via press release, Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary cooperation," Berman said, adding that his office is "considering its options."

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Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, told NBC News that the office would decline to comment.
Virginia Roberts photographed with Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell

Prince Andrew with Virginia Giuffre and Ghislaine Maxwell at Andrew's London home in a photo released with court documents.
Federal investigators have been trying for months to speak with the Duke of York, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II and a longtime friend of Epstein's who has been accused by one woman of sexual abuse.

Buckingham Palace declined to comment on the request from U.S. prosecutors to speak with Prince Andrew. A spokesperson for U.K.'s Home Office said it could neither confirm nor deny the existence of mutual legal assistance requests.

A source close to Andrew's legal team told NBC News that legal discussions with the Department of Justice are subject to strict confidentiality rules.

"We have chosen to abide by both the letter and the spirit of these rules, which is why we have made no comment about anything related to the DOJ during the course of this year. We believe in playing straight bat," the source said.

Epstein, 66, died by suicide in August while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Prosecutors accused the politically connected financier of preying on dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.

Prince Andrew with Jeffrey Epstein
© Jae Donnelly
Prince Andrew met with Jeffrey Epstein after his 2008 conviction for child sex abuse
Following Epstein's death, prosecutors vowed to continue the investigation. The case brought renewed attention to several high-profile people in Epstein's orbit, including Andrew.

In a widely panned interview with the BBC in the fall, Andrew, 60, denied allegations that he had sex with Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who says she was trafficked by Epstein when she was 17 and was directed to have sexual relations with the prince. Andrew said that he had no recollection of ever having met her — despite a widely circulated photograph showing otherwise — and that he was at a pizza restaurant with his daughter on the day in 2001 that Giuffre alleges they had the sexual encounter.

Andrew also said in the interview that he let the royal family down by staying with Epstein after his 2008 conviction.
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.