Prince Andrew, Duke of York, attends a commemoration service at Manchester Cathedral marking the 100th anniversary since the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 2016 in Manchester, England.

Prince Andrew, Duke of York, attends a commemoration service at Manchester Cathedral marking the 100th anniversary since the start of the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Christopher Furlong - WPA Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

The royal family persists in pushing Prince Andrew out to a skeptical public, and in such limited, oddly orchestrated ways that he ends up looking unpopular and increasingly beleaguered amid intense media scrutiny over his friendship with pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.

The most striking example of this royal miscalculation came last week during the Duke of York's tour of Australia, which invited little media coverage and almost no fanfare, Australian news outlets reported.

At an event at Murdoch University in Perth, the media was kept roped off from the courtyard where Andrew arrived, reports said. Most others in the courtyard failed to notice that a member of the royal family was in their midst, and only just one diehard fan went up to greet him.

Contrast what was described as a "sorry" turnout for Andrew to the throngs of adoring fans photographed around Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at every stop during their 10-day Africa tour.

The fan who greeted Andrew, school teacher Renae Grljusich-Poolman, told the Australian that the turnout for Queen Elizabeth's second son was "disappointing." But she agreed that concerns about Andrew's friendship with the now-deceased sex offender Epstein had "marred his credibility," the Australian reported.

The duke's office announced that Andrew traveled to Australia to serve as a patron for Pitch@Palace, an initiative he launched to encourage young entrepreneurs to pitch their ideas to potential investors.

On their social media accounts, Andrew, 59, and the royal family shared photos of him with others during his so-called "Pitch@Palace Australia 3.0" tour. But the people seen with Andrew are involved with Pitch@Palace; Andrew also was photographed visiting members of the Royal Flying Doctor's Service in Perth.

Andrew arrived in Australia the night of Sept. 30, after the Sunday Times reported that the FBI is including him in their ongoing and expanding investigation of Epstein's alleged sex trafficking operation.

"The U.S. investigation is focusing on several potential victims in the hope that they can provide more details about Prince Andrew and his connection to the Epstein case," a source from the U.S. Justice Department told the Sunday Times. "They are not going to dismiss (claims relating to Andrew) because he is a royal."

The Sunday Times said the FBI expects to question Epstein's alleged victims in the next two months, and the agency has briefed Scotland Yard on its probe. The Times said Scotland Yard detectives stand ready to assist their American counterparts. The report did not say whether Andrew would make himself available to talk to investigators.

With news about the FBI's reported involvement, the duke will continue to be plagued by negative headlines about his controversial association with Epstein. The multimillionaire sex offender, 66, died by suicide Aug. 10 in a Manhattan jail, where he was awaiting trial on new charges of sexually abusing and trafficking underage girls.

Andrew reportedly was friends with Epstein, starting in the late 1990s and continuing through at least late 2010 - after Epstein was first investigated for trafficking underage girls and convicted in 2008 of crimes involving sex with a minor.

It has been documented in news reports and in court filings that Andrew traveled on Epstein's private plane multiple times, visited his different homes and invited the financier for a weekend stay and for royal family birthday parties at Balmoral and Windsor castles.

Most problematic for Andrew is that Virginia Roberts Giuffre, one of Epstein's alleged "sex slaves," has claimed in a lawsuit and in interviews that she was forced to have sex with Andrew three times in 2001 when she was 17.

In a recent interview with NBC's "Dateline," the Sacramento, Calif.-born Guiffre, now 35, said about Andrew: "He was an abuser. He was a participant."

The duke, once known by the U.K. media as "Randy Andy," has repeatedly denied Giuffre's accusations, saying they were "false" and "without foundation." Andrew also has tried to distance himself from Epstein and said he regrets continuing their friendship after the convicted pedophile was released from his controversially short 13-month county jail stay in 2010.

Visit The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com

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