Via Financial Times

Prince Andrew has suffered further embarrassment after the charities regulator questioned £350,000 of payments to his former private secretary.

The affair is the latest setback for the Duke of York, the Queen’s third child, who has been off public duties since a furore over his links with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

It comes after news that the prince and his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson — who remains a close friend — are in a legal dispute about an outstanding £5m payment for a chalet in Verbier, Switzerland, first reported by the Daily Mail on Friday. 

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The Charity Commission, which regulates non-profit organisations in England and Wales, intervened over payments made to Amanda Thirsk, Prince Andrew’s long-serving private secretary who left shortly after his disastrous interview with BBC Newsnight last year.

Ms Thirsk was a trustee of the prince’s umbrella organisation, the Prince Andrew Charitable Trust (PACT), as well as a director of its profitmaking subsidiaries, including Pitch@Palace, his venture for introducing entrepreneurs and investors. The Charity Commission tightly controls the use of philanthropic funds to pay trustees.

According to PACT’s annual report, the regulator “raised a concern about remuneration paid to one of the Trustees . . . which the Commission considered to be an unauthorised Trustee benefit”. As a result, a total of £355,297 — relating to five years of payments to Ms Thirsk — was repaid by the Duke of York’s household.

The matter was raised by PACT’s trustees in correspondence to the Charity Commission; the Commission made no suggestion of wrongdoing by Ms Thirsk. Buckingham Palace and Ms Thirsk declined to comment.

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“Most charities are supersensitive to the need to comply with the strict laws around trustee benefit,” said Jolyon Maugham QC, a barrister. “It is unfathomable to me that a grown-up charity like Prince Andrew’s Charitable Trust got this so wrong.”

The affair shines a light on Prince Andrew’s unusual finances. He does not receive a direct public grant and instead has relied on income from his commercial activities.

Pitch@Palace rose to prominence after organising events at locations including St James’s Palace. Its growth allowed Prince Andrew to hire more staff and to travel internationally after he was forced to resign as an official UK trade envoy in 2011.

PACT is currently in liquidation, along with the UK arm of Pitch@Palace. However, Pitch@Palace Global, the international arm, which reported nearly £600,000 in profits in the year ending March 2019, is expected to live on. It has removed all references to the prince from its website, and is working to “refresh the brand”.

Ms Thirsk, the duke’s private secretary since 2012 until January, is widely seen as having orchestrated the Prince’s Newsnight interview last year about his links to Epstein. Intended to restore his reputation, the interview had the opposite effect — particularly because the prince declined to say that he regretted his friendship with the convicted sex offender.

PACT filed a serious incident report with the Charities Commission after the interview, after becoming “aware of the potential reputational risk by association”.