(CNN) – The US Department of Justice has requested an interview with Prince Andrew as part of its criminal investigation into the alleged sex trafficking ring once operated by Jeffrey Epstein, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The request, initiated by federal prosecutors in the Manhattan US Attorney's office, is part of a mutual legal assistance treaty request -- a form of cooperation between countries for assistance in the investigation or prosecution of criminal offenses -- submitted to the UK's Home Office, according to the source.
A spokesman for the US Attorney's office for the Southern District of New York, Nick Biase, said: "I cannot publicly comment on communications with foreign governments on investigative matters, including confirming or denying the very existence of such communications."
In a statement Monday, Prince Andrew's legal team said that "any pursuit of an application for mutual legal assistance would be disappointing."
They said the Justice Department had told them "that the Duke is not and has never been a 'target' of their criminal investigations into Epstein" and that Prince Andrew "has on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the DOJ" adding that he "recently repeated his willingness to provide a witness statement."
Criticizing what they described as a breach of confidentiality on the part of the Justice Department, they said that in claiming Prince Andrew hasn't been cooperative, "they are perhaps seeking publicity rather than accepting the assistance proffered."
Hours later, Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, refuted those claims, saying the prince "has repeatedly declined our request to schedule such an interview, and nearly four months ago informed us unequivocally -- through the very same counsel who issued today's release -- that he would not come in for such an interview."
Berman added: "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."
Buckingham Palace and the UK Home Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Though Epstein died in August 2019 while awaiting trial on federal charges that he sexually abused underage girls and ran a sex-trafficking ring, prosecutors have continued to pursue investigations of people who they believe helped Epstein carry out an alleged multi-year sex trafficking operation.
Prince Andrew has come under public pressure to explain his relationship with Epstein and allegations by one of his accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre. She has alleged that she was forced into sexual encounters with the prince while she was underage.
In a 2015 federal court filing, Giuffre alleged Epstein forced her to perform sex acts with several prominent men, including Prince Andrew in 2001. All of them have denied the allegations.
In a November BBC interview, Prince Andrew said he had never met Giuffre and suggested that a photo of the two of them may have been doctored.
"I can tell you categorically I don't remember meeting her at all. I do not remember a photograph being taken and I've said consistently and frequently that we never had any sort of sexual contact whatever," he said.
He also said after he appeared on BBC that he was "willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."
The prince said he would be willing to testify or give a statement under oath about the case, but he would "have to take all the legal advice that there was... But if push came to shove and the legal advice was to do so, then I would be duty bound to do so."
The FBI and federal prosecutors subsequently contacted Prince Andrew's lawyer to interview the prince about Epstein, but Prince Andrew's team provided "zero" cooperation, according to Berman, the US Attorney in Manhattan, who took the rare step of publicly announcing his frustrations with the situation.
"It's fair for people to know whether Prince Andrew has followed through with that public commitment," Berman said at a news conference in January outside Epstein's Manhattan mansion.
"To date Prince Andrew has provided zero cooperation."
Almost two months later, Berman said Prince Andrew had "completely shut the door" on voluntarily cooperating with his investigation and said his office was "considering its options." But Prince Andrew's legal team responded Monday that "these statements were inaccurate, and they should not have been made."
Asked about the matter in an interview on Fox News on Monday night, US Attorney General Bill Barr said prosecutors' interest in the prince stems from "evidence" he could provide in the ongoing Epstein investigation, and does not amount to a request for his extradition.
“I don’t think it’s a question of handing him over, I think it’s just a question of having him provide some evidence,” Barr said.