In a major embarrassment for British Royalty, Queen Elizabeth's cousin, Prince Michael of Kent, has been caught offering investors access to the Russian leadership in exchange for cash, in a sting operation carried out by Sunday Times and Channel 4 journalists.
Prince Michael told undercover reporters posing as investors from South Korea in a virtual meeting that for 10,000 pounds (Rs 10.24 lakh) a day he could make "confidential" representations to Russian President Vladimir Putin's entourage.
The BBC has also reported the scandal.
The 78-year-old prince was decorated with Russia's Order of Friendship in 2009 when Putin was prime minister and reportedly has access to the country’s top leadership.
Channel 4's Dispatches programme and the weekly newspaper set up a fictitious South Korean gold company called House of Haedong as part of the sting operation.
The prince said he could also give the company a royal endorsement in a recorded speech for $200,000 dollars (164,000 euros), with his Kensington Palace home as a backdrop.
In a recorded meeting with the undercover reporters, his business partner Lord Reading called the prince "Her Majesty's unofficial ambassador to Russia".
"I think ... this is kind of slightly discreet, we're talking relatively discreetly here," he reportedly said.
"Because we wouldn't want the world to know that he is seeing Putin purely for business reasons, if you follow me."
Reading had used an event at Kensington Palace in 2013, in which the prince was a guest, to sell access to Putin, the investigators said.
The event also offered a chance to personally meet the Russian leader some day in the future.
The incident comes at a time when relations between London and Moscow have soured, especially after the 2018 poisoning of a former Russian KGB agent in England.
In a damage-control exercise, Prince Michael's office told the British Press Association he had no special relations with Putin and "receives no public funding and earns his own living through a consultancy company that he has run for over 40 years.
"They last met in June 2003 and Prince Michael has had no contact with him or his office since then.
"Lord Reading is a good friend, who in trying to help, made suggestions which Prince Michael would not have wanted, or been able, to fulfil."
The Sunday Times report said Lord Reading later sent an email to the reporters which it described as suggesting he might have regretted being too candid about the prince and Russia.
The email said any arrangement would be subject to the prince's advisers to make sure everything was correct.
In a statement reported by the newspaper, Lord Reading said he had made a mistake and "over-promised" during the meeting with the undercover reporters and for that he was "truly regretful".
The Prince and Princess Michael of Kent are not working members of the Royal Family but have represented the Queen in the past. Before the pandemic, they attended around 200 engagements a year, according to the BBC report.
The royal website includes a biography which describes the prince as being "connected to Russia through his maternal grandmother" and as having "a strong interest in the country".
The biography said he "became the first member of the Royal Family to learn Russian, ultimately qualifying as a Russian interpreter".
The prince and princess do not receive public money.