Two Oz varsities sever ties with Prince Andrew charity after Epstein interview

Canberra: Two Australian universities have severed ties with a business mentoring charity founded by Prince Andrew after the royal’s train-wreck interview about his links to the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

According to a report published in the British newspaper The Guardian, the Pitch@Palace program – founded by the prince in 2014 – supports entrepreneurs and start-up companies and gives them the opportunity to pitch their idea to business leaders at places including Buckingham Palace.

The Australian branch, Pitch@Palace Australia, held its annual pitching contest on 4 October, at Government House in Perth, hosted by Prince Andrew himself.

Pitch@Palace Australia lists four universities as “host partners”, but Melbourne’s RMIT University and Bond University in Queensland have now formally ended their association, said the report.

Another, the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, said it would be reviewing their relationship. The fourth “host partner”, Murdoch University in Western Australia, has been contacted for comment.

Over the past few days, multiple corporate partners have also deserted the charity – including Standard Chartered, Aon and KPMG, the report mentioned.

On Saturday night, the Duke of York gave a much-derided interview to the BBC where he denied accusations of sexual assault and defended his links to the financier and convicted child sex offender Epstein.

In response to allegations from Virginia Giuffre (formerly Roberts) that she was trafficked to the duke and had sex with him when she was 17, Prince Andrew claimed he was at home after a pizza party.

The duke also said he regretted staying at Epstein’s house, but thought it was the honourable and right thing to do and a “convenient place to stay” at the time.

On Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Bond University confirmed that its involvement with the charity would end “in light of recent events”.

“Our current agreement with Pitch@Palace Australia finished this year,” she said. “We have previously said any new agreement would be considered in 2020.

“However, in light of recent events, the university does not intend to seek any further involvement.”

A spokesman for RMIT said its involvement in Pitch@Palace “concluded in October 2019”.

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensuring RMIT is a safe and inclusive place to work and study.”

The University of Wollongong said it was “currently undertaking an annual review of its future involvement in Pitch@Palace”.

“The university remains committed to supporting entrepreneurship and small business in Australia, and its assessment will include consideration of whether Pitch@Palace remains an effective avenue to deliver that support.

“The university will reach a considered decision about its future involvement with Pitch@Palace based on the university’s strategic objectives, institutional values and the program’s potential for success.”

Pitch@Palace was founded in 2014 to “provide a platform to amplify and accelerate the work of entrepreneurs”, according to its website.

An Australian version began in 2017, and the third instalment (Pitch@Palace Australia 3.0) took place in October.

According to the website, 42 entrepreneurs took part this year, pitching to “an influential audience of potential supporters, including CEOs, influencers, mentors and business partners”.

Three winners were invited to the global event, held in St James’s Palace in London.

The global program claims to have generated more than $2.46bn in global economic activity across 64 countries.