Daily Briefing

Ghislaine Maxwell: who is the socialite embroiled in Jeffrey Epstein case?

The publishing heiress is likely to face questioning over alleged role in underage sex abuse, says former New York prosecutor

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell is facing investigation by US authorities over allegations that she procured underage girls to have sex with disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, according to reports.

The news follows the death of convicted paedophile Epstein, who is thought to have hung himself on Saturday morning in his cell in a New York prison, where he was awaiting trial for the alleged sex trafficking of minors.

His apparent suicide came hours after 1,200 court documents were released detailing the allegations of women who say they were sexually abused by him. The papers relate to the case of Giuffre v. Maxwell, in which Virginia Giuffre, who claims to have been Epstein’s “sex slave”, sued Ghislaine Maxwell for defamation. The case was settled out of court in 2017.

But Maxwell is now thought to be facing questioning by US prosecutors, reports The Times.

Who is she?

The “favourite daughter” of disgraced media mogul Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine Maxwell is a well-connected British socialite, says The Daily Telegraph. “Whip-smart, glamorous and charming, she spent years trading on her impeccable contacts, often photographed with politicians, entrepreneurs and royalty,” the newspaper continues.

However, she came under the spotlight in far less flattering circumstances following her father’s death in a fall from his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, in 1991, when around £460m was found to be missing from the pension fund of his Mirror Group Newspapers. His daughter, then 30, fled to New York in a bid to escape the controversy.

There, she met financier and fixture of high society Jeffrey Epstein. After a brief romantic relationship, the pair stayed close, with Epstein describing her as his “best friend”.

“She had an upbringing and taste and knew how to run a house and a boat and how to entertain,” an acquaintance told the Telegraph. “You can’t buy that. You can’t buy access, either.”

How is she connected to the Epstein court case?

The Guardian reports the Maxwell is alleged to have acted as “madame” for the billionaire paedophile and his friends, a claim that she “strongly denies”.

The newly released court documents say it is “an undisputed fact that multiple witnesses” have testified that Maxwell operated as Epstein’s “procurer of underage girls”.

Legal papers name Maxwell as “one of the main women whom Epstein used to procure under-aged girls for sexual activities and a primary co-conspirator in his sexual abuse and sex trafficking scheme” and add “that Maxwell herself regularly participated in Epstein’s sexual exploitation of minors”.

The documents claim that she took “sexually explicit pictures of underage girls involved in sexual activities” and shared them with Epstein.

Maxwell has also long been associated with Prince Andrew, who was identified in court papers in the case of Giuffre v. Maxwell. Testimonies include claims that “one of the individuals [Epstein accuer] Ms Giuffre was trafficked to was Prince Andrew”. The Duke of York denied the allegations, and a judge struck them from the record in 2015.

What will happen next?

Epstein’s death means the criminal case he was facing for trafficking underage girls is over. However, if prosecutors believe there is sufficient evidence, they are still free to pursue any co-conspirators in the case - and that could include Ghislaine Maxwell.

Adam Citron, a former New York prosecutor, told The Daily Telegraph that US prosecutors would “absolutely” want to speak to Maxwell and to the Duke of York.

Sigrid McCawley, a lawyer representing one of Epstein’s accusers, said in a statement that “the reckoning of accountability begun by the voices of brave and truthful victims should not end” with his death.

Conspiracy theorists are offering a range of theories about how he died, noting that the disgraced financier had been placed on suicide watch last week. US Attorney General Bill Barr said the incident “raises serious questions that must be answered”.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential nomination and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has called Epstein’s death “way too convenient”.

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