By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 24, 2010; A13
A London tabloid disclosed video footage Sunday of Sarah Ferguson telling an undercover reporter that she would arrange access to her ex-husband, Prince Andrew, in return for substantial payments.
The Duchess of York did not dispute the authenticity of the tape, in which she appears to ask for a down payment of $40,000 in cash, followed by 500,000 pounds (about $724,000), which she says would "open doors." She said in a statement: "I very deeply regret the situation and the embarrassment caused. It is true that my financial situation is under stress, however, that is no excuse for a serious lapse in judgment."
The newspaper, owned by Rupert Murdoch, said Prince Andrew knew nothing about the alleged scheme, and Ferguson says on the tape that he "never does accept a penny for anything."
News of the World had reporter Mazher Mahmood pose as a wealthy businessman seeking help from the prince, who acts as Britain's special trade representative, in a conversation recorded Tuesday in a London apartment. Mahmood's Fleet Street nickname is the "Fake Sheik."
Matthew Nixson, a News of the World spokesman, said in a telephone interview that the 4 1/2 minutes of video the paper posted online were only "highlights," raising questions about the editing process. As for the ethics of a journalist impersonating a businessman, Nixson said that there was "a legitimate public interest" in the story and that this is "common practice" in the United Kingdom.
Buckingham Palace had no comment.
On the video, Ferguson, 50, invokes the prince -- the couple, who have two daughters, divorced in 1996 -- by saying: "Look after me, and he'll look after you. . . . You'll get it back tenfold. I can open any door you want." She said Andrew has had to support her because "I've got no money." British papers have reported that she is heavily in debt.
When Ferguson asks for 500,000 pounds in exchange for opening doors, Mahmood says, "It would be Prince Andrew?" She says, "Yeah."
"Is that a deal?" the reporter asks. She again says, "yeah."
On the tape, Ferguson watches Mahmood pull out wads of cash for the down payment and says he will need to arrange a "wire transfer" for the rest to her HBSC bank account.
During an earlier dinner, Ferguson kept asking Mahmood if he was from News of the World or another paper, the article said. While News of the World used loaded language -- saying "greedy Sarah Ferguson" had "shamelessly" tried to sell access -- other British media outlets quickly picked up the allegations.
Ferguson was due in Los Angeles on Sunday to accept a charity award for her work with underprivileged children.