As Chris Bryant, the Shadow Commons leader, said, “When I was at the Foreign Office, nobody could ever tell whether [Prince Andrew] was looking out for himself or whether he really had the interests of the country at heart.”The Diplomat
As the world cracks down on the oligarchs linked to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, it’s easy to forget that Prince Andrew was once at the top of the European diplomacy hierarchy.
In my opinion, he gave an exclusive social passport and high-level access to a Kazack woman, educated in Russia and the UK, who went from being the daughter of an engineer to one of the richest women in the world.
Her name is Goga Ashkenazi and while there is no evidence of impropriety on her behalf, her stratospheric climb into the upper echelons of UK and European society is meteoric.
Firstly, she was so close to the Royal that she attempted to defend him when news broke of the Epstein scandal.
At the same time, she confirmed his meeting with Virginia Roberts Giufree, when the Jeffrey Epstein allegations broke in the UK.
A report in The Sydney Morning Herald said:
Kazakh-born Miss Ashkenazi, who attended Oxford and now lives in London, gave an insight into the Duke’s own feelings about his predicament, saying: “He knows it was unwise to fraternise with this Epstein character and it was silly to be photographed with his arm around Epstein’s masseuse. “But I know Andrew as a lovely, lovely man; kind-hearted, impeccably behaved and honourable, and I’m quite sure that at the time he had no idea that she was under age or anything more than a masseuse to Epstein.”The Sydney Morning Herald, March 9, 2001
According to The Sun, the Royal and “the glamorous English-educated Kazakh socialite and businesswoman, reportedly enchanted the embattled Duke from the moment they met at a 2001 New Year’s Eve party in Phuket, Thailand.”
Who else was Prince Andrew spending that new year with? Jeffrey Epstein & Ghislaine Maxwell, who were also in Thailand, although there’s no evidence Ms Ashkenazi ever associated with the pair.
Secondly, Epstein and the duke were also notoriously photographed at the time on a yacht with semi-naked women.
But the Duke was said to have been “besotted” with the then-20-year-old Goga – but she has always insisted they were just friends.
She is also seen as very skilled in relationship management, especially when it came to a very specific 2007 property transaction outside of London. That £15million plot of land belonged to Prince Andrew.
The property was purchased by Timur Kulibayev, the billionaire son-in-law of Kazakhstan’s former president. He paid £3million above asking prince for Prince Andrew’s long-unsold mansion Sunninghill Park. Goga was the billionaire’s mistress and is the mother of two if his children.
Of the transaction, a spokesman for the buyer told FT.com: “Kulibayev’s former partner Goga Ashkenazi told me later. “I introduced them, so what? I’m not a real estate agent.”
Most of this has been known for years but the recent worldwide crackdown on oligarchs and kleptocrats has brought into focus the opaque nature of the transaction.
According to FT.com: “Ashkenazi was born Gaukhar Berkalieva in Kazakhstan in 1980 but grew up in an apartment building for senior communist officials in Moscow. Her father was an engineer who sat in the Soviet party’s Central Committee under Mikhail Gorbachev. “To be completely honest with you, yes, I lived in privilege.”… She was 11 when the Soviet Union dissolved. However, her parents, like most senior communist officials, didn’t exactly plunge into poverty.”
Back in Prince Andrew’s peak bachelor days in the 2000s, the Royal developed a crush on this Soviet party pal and the self-described oligarch was soon his regular platonic plus-one.
It is true that during Prince Andrew’s time as roving UK trade ambassador, he forged relationships with an array of Middle East and Eurasian political regimes.
But the woman, now one he richest women in the world, is the subject of much conjecture and criticism.
It could be the company she keeps, from the embattled duke to Saif Gaddafi (son of Muammar), and Kazakh oil billionaire Timur Kulibayev, who is the father of Ashkenazi’s children.
Prince Andrew, always led by his hormones.
In policy is, there’s hard politics and soft power. They are both powerful and the Duke of York had the social connections to open doors for this mysterious woman.