and_gogDogged by his controversial friendship with billionaire sex offender Jeffrey Epstein — not to mention his connections with despotic regimes from Libya to Azerbaijan — Prince Andrew knew just who to turn to this week.


His doting mother and slavishly loyal former wife aside, Kazakhstani bombshell Goga Ashkenazi seems to be his most ardent apologist.


This week Goga, 31, cheerfully revealed how the Prince had been communicating his latest anxieties to her by BlackBerry.


'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 [17-year-old Virginia Roberts],' she said.


'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 this girl was under-age or anything more than a masseuse to Epstein.'


So far, so devoted, but perhaps we should not be surprised by her touching defence, given that it was Goga who brokered one of the Royal Family's most controversial property deals — the sale of Prince Andrew's marital home, Sunninghill, for £3 million over the already generous asking price of £12 million (though the property was originally valued at only £9 million).


And the buyer? Her married former lover — and father of her three-year-old son — the President of Kazakhstan's son-in-law Timur Kulibayev.


It is Goga who introduced Andrew to Kulibayev at a dinner party at her sumptuous house in Holland Park, West London, which, she likes to tell people, is 'worth £28 million'.


There, she has a liveried butler who addresses her as 'Madame Goga', a dresser who lays out her designer clothes from the high fashion labels Missoni, Givenchy, Chloe and Lanvin, a housekeeper, secretary and chauffeur for her Bentley Continental Flying Spur.


There are also cooks to prepare the frequent dinner parties for 'rich people who don't know each other', as a former guest describes them.


It was at one of these dinners that Andrew managed to start hawking his house. 'I had a dinner party for 20 people; so far as I know, it came up in conversation that Andrew was selling his house,' recalled Goga.


The details surrounding the sale of the property, a gift from the Queen when Andrew married in 1986, have always been opaque. Why did Kulibayev pay £3 million over the asking price when it had been on the market for five years? Because that's the price Andrew asked him for, according to Goga; and it was small change to Kulibayev, as she didn't add.


Second, what did Kulibayev want with the modern monstrosity anyway, given that it has lain empty since he bought it in 2007? Goga claimed this week that the house was never bought for personal use.


'The plan, as I understand it, is to convert it into a charitable school for bright Kazakh children who can come here to do their A-levels and then try for the top British universities,' she said. 'The first step is to get planning permission.'


But checks show that no planning permission has been applied for, and the weeds growing up around the place suggest it is not about to be transformed into anything.


Indeed, as we shall discover, it may be that instead of a loyal supporter, Goga should be regarded as part of the Prince's problem — which is that he seems to be unable to judge what kind of company is fit for a member of the Royal Family to keep, especially one who is Britain's official trade envoy.


Born in the south of Kazakhstan when it was part of the Soviet Union, Goga is the daughter of former engineer and rising communist Erkin Berkaliev. As he began to make money in manufacturing and banking, her mother decided to send her to school in Britain and had, said Goga, an obsession with her going to Oxford.


After leaving Stowe public school under a cloud when she was caught with a boy in her room, Goga went to Rugby and then Somerville College, Oxford. 'She was always super smart and very slinky,' remembers an acquaintance from those days. 'She looks as if she's had plastic surgery, but those lips are real.'


From this point on, the story is punctuated by a succession of powerful men. When she moved to London she fell in with a glitzy crowd that included Binatone electronics heir Dino Lalvani.


'He was my first real boyfriend,' she said. 'We travelled the world. Phuket for the Millennium. In London it was Chinawhite [a louche, ultra-fashionable nightclub] every Wednesday, Tramp [an exclusive Jermyn Street club] on Thursdays and Saturdays.'


She became friends with Lord Hanson's playboy financier son Robert, and then met Formula One tycoon Flavio Briatore at a birthday party. (She was photographed, topless, on his yacht).


After six months with Briatore, she went on to marry Stefan Ashkenazy, heir to the multi-million-pound L'Ermitage hotel group, but the marriage fell apart after they moved to Los Angeles, which she hated.


Goga's social pretensions moved up a considerable notch when she met Prince Andrew at a party thrown by Hanson in 2001. It was six years later that the Prince took her into the Royal Box at Ascot and introduced her to the Queen. Last year, she was a favoured guest at the 50th birthday party thrown for him by the Queen at Buckingham Palace.


He certainly gave her the treatment, including a special tour. 'Imagine — he grew up surrounded by Renoirs!' she said later, recalling how he had led her down a long corridor lined with Old Masters and said nonchalantly: 'I used to ride my bike along here.'


This week, she denied for the first time Andrew was her lover, but a year ago when asked by a journalist (she has never been averse to publicity, as numerous shoots in Hello! testify), she did not deny it, saying 'a girl has to have some secrets'.


Whatever the nature of their relationship, they are undeniably close. When she had her 30th birthday party at Tyringham Hall in Buckinghamshire last year (her beaming face was projected 30ft high on to the front portico), she sat next to him.


She also once texted him to say a newspaper was reporting that she was madly in love with him. He texted back: 'Well, aren't you?'


A dresser by her bed has a framed picture of the Prince. More photos of him are in her sleek, 70ft long reception room, next to the cigarette boxes printed with a leopard-skin design and the word GOGA, which lie on sidetables sandwiched between pale velvet sofas and her Steinway piano.


Then there are the digital snapshots of the Prince in her BlackBerry phone. She showed an interviewer one from Andrew with him grinning against a backdrop of the Himalayas on one of his trips.


There is also a picture on her phone of Goga in a tent in Libya with another deeply controversial figure. Perhaps we should not be so surprised that this ultra-networking socialite is a close chum of Colonel Gaddafi's son Saif, 38 (who has, of course, forged business links with Andrew in the past).


Goga and Saif have been wolf-hunting together during one of their jaunts, though she is now keen to distance herself from him and has recast him merely as an acquaintance.


If that were not enough, another snap she keeps shows her dining in Sardinia with the scandal-tainted Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.


So how did an engineer's daughter from one of the least fashionable corners of the world come to be at the heart of such a wealthy and controversial international set?


Goga has said that in 2003 she went into business, starting a company with her older sister in Kazakhstan. She is now the chairman of MunaiGaz Engineering, which operates in the oil industry services sector and employs more than 300 people.


Then there is the London-based company, MMG Global Consulting, run by the sisters, which according to Companies House, is a small concern specialising in advice on investment in Kazakhstan. And now there is Gift-Library.com, a luxury present website she runs with her great friend — and former companion of Andrew — socialite Caroline Stanbury.


Goga is also on the board of Ivanhoe mining group, which focuses on the Asian-Pacific area, and owns a share in Kazakhstan's Bakyrchik goldmine.


Prince Andrew and Goga have travelled together to Kazakhstan, where she introduced him to the delights of shooting wild boars. Rather more pertinently, she presented him to the President and the clique that surrounds him.


Producing Andrew, fourth in line to the throne, would have been a coup for Goga.


President Nursultan Nazarbayev has been desperately seeking respectability for his regime, which many believe to be corrupt and homicidal. The Prince has met him at least seven times in his role as government trade ambassador and during private holidays.


But then, connecting people is one of the things that Goga does best: she is a natural born fixer, and says so herself. What should concern the Prince rather more is quite where she gets her conspicuous wealth.


In Kazakhstan, critics of the regime say Goga's wealth derives not from her brilliance in business, but from her former lover Timur Kulibayev, the President's son-in-law.


He is deputy director of the concern that controls Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth, derived mostly from its immensely rich oil and gas fields and mineral deposits.


As for explaining why he paid so much for the Prince's house — there is a clue in the fact that this week the head of Kazakhstan's £23 billion sovereign wealth fund (on which Kulibayev serves as an executive) said he hoped the royal envoy would help the central Asian state by convincing City investors that it was secure, despite its banking crisis and shaky reputation.


If we look at allegations against Kulibayev, the house deal makes even more sense. According to documents in a 4in-thick dossier put together by a Kazakh exile called Mukhtar Ablazyov (a former banker who fled to London; he faces High Court actions over claims of embezzlement by the Kazakhstani authorities, but says he is being persecuted), Kulibayev is no stranger to sweeteners in business deals.


The dossier claims he pocketed more than £100 million when he arranged for a Chinese energy corporation to buy a Kazakh oilfield; it goes on to say that he promptly went out and bought himself a £30 million Boeing 737 from the proceeds.


Kulibayev denies taking bribes, and an investigation in Kazakhstan cleared him of any wrongdoing. Yet recently-leaked American diplomatic cables frequently refer to Kulibayev's extravagance, noting he paid Elton John £1 million to sing at his 41st birthday party in 2007.


One cable, sent by U.S. ambassador Richard Hoagland in 2009, has this view: 'Corruption is endemic among Kazakhstani officialdom. Most senior officials live lifestyles that require much higher incomes.


'In many instances, they receive profits from businesses registered in the names of their spouses or other relatives. In other cases, they are stealing directly from the public trough.'


So this is the milieu in which Goga is deeply immersed. In December 2007, her son Adam was born at the private Portland Hospital in London with Kulibayev — then as now married to the President's daughter — named on the birth certificate as his father.


A few weeks before the birth, a newsletter circulating in Kazakhstan claimed Kulibayev liked to go on holiday with Goga and his wife Dinara at the same time. The report stated: 'As Dinara stays in her hotel room, Goga waits for him on the deck of a nearby sailing yacht. Even the hotel staff laugh at them. Timur's lover (Goga) puts on jewellery worth £1.5 million. She looks like a Christmas tree in all those diamonds.'


Today Goga says she is single, but admits she is still close to Kulibayev and acknowledges he helped her in attaining her wealth. 'As a mentor he has contributed. In business you always owe it to somebody.'


She also speaks highly of President Nazarbayev and his regime, dismissing criticism of him as being politically motivated. Really? There are some unpleasant facts which, it must be said, Andrew could easily have discovered for himself before he assumed his snug position in Goga's decadent circle.


According to human rights activists, rigged elections, suppression of free speech and a free press, torture and imprisonment of critics are the defining elements of Nazarbayev's rule. So, it is alleged, is murder.


One opposition politician who publicly accused the President of corruption was found dead in his flat with three bullet wounds: two in the heart and one in the head.


The police concluded it was one of the most distressing cases of suicide they had dealt with.


The death came right after the politician announced he was about to publish documents proving corruption at the highest level of government.


Three months after this 'suicide', an opposition leader was found shot dead with his driver and bodyguard. He had enraged the President by claiming his daughter Darigha had acquired her media empire through illegal means.


If Andrew did not know all this, he, or perhaps one of his retinue, should have made a point of finding it out.


And if he did know? Well, in that case we can only conclude that his sense of probity was overwhelmed by the allure of Goga Ashkenazi or all that money for his ghastly house.


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