Prince Andrew is stepping back from public duties for the “foreseeable future” over the controversy that has surrounded his friendship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

The British royal released a statement on Wednesday night saying the focus on his association with the disgraced New York financer had caused “major disruption” to his family’s work.

He wrote: “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 and the valuable work going on in the many organisations and charities that I am proud to support.

“Therefore, I have asked Her Majesty if I may step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, and she has given her permission.”

The 59-year-old also expressed sympathy for Epstein’s accusers and said he would be willing to participate in police investigations — something he had been heavily criticised for not saying during a televised tell-all interview last weekend.

“I continue to unequivocally regret my ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein,” the prince wrote.

“His suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure.

“I can only hope that, in time, they will be able to rebuild their lives. Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required.”

In the interview, which was broadcast on BBC’s Newsnight on Saturday, the Duke of York was criticised for failing to say he regretted his friendship with Epstein, who killed himself in jail in August while awaiting trial for sex trafficking charges.

The prince was also ridiculed for his denial of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl — saying it wasn’t possible because he had been dining at a Pizza Express restaurant in Woking on the night the pair were said to have met.

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