In Depth

Inside the hunt for Ghislaine Maxwell - and what next for Prince Andrew?

US investigators say the ex-girlfriend of Jeffrey Epstein played ‘critical role’ in grooming underage girls

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has appeared in court after being charged with helping to procure underage girls to be sexually abused by Jeffrey Epstein.

New York prosecutors claim that Maxwell played a “critical role” in helping the late paedophile “identify, befriend and groom” victims, and took part in some of the abuse. Epstein died in an apparent suicide in a Manhattan jail last August while awaiting trial for sex trafficking.

Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?

The well-connected socialite was the “favourite daughter” of late media mogul Robert Maxwell. “Whip-smart, glamorous and charming, she spent years trading on her impeccable contacts, often photographed with politicians, entrepreneurs and royalty,” according to The Telegraph.

Those contacts included US financier Epstein. The pair had a relationship in the early 1990s and remained close after splitting, with Epstein describing her as his “best friend”. Maxwell is also alleged to have acted as “madame” for the billionaire paedophile and his friends - a claim that she has denied.

Legal papers filed in the US in 2014 named 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 said that “Maxwell herself regularly participated in Epstein’s sexual exploitation of minors”.

Epstein was arrested last year in New York following allegations that he was running a network of underage girls - some as young as 14 - for sex. Following his death, Maxwell “has kept a low profile”, says Sky News, but the investigation into her alleged role in the abuse has continued.

She was arrested in New Hampshire on Thursday. The BBC reports that “five of the six charges brought against her each carry a sentence of five years with the sixth - transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity - punishable by up to ten years in prison”.

Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, told a press conference that Maxwell had “repeatedly lied” about her involvement because the truth was “almost unspeakable”. 

The socialite had “enticed young girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them”, Strauss said.

What does her arrest mean for Prince Andrew?

Maxwell’s association with Prince Andrew is well established, with the Duke named in court papers relating to a defamation case filed against Maxwell by abuse victim Virginia Giuffre that were unsealed last year. The documents include claims that “one of the individuals Ms Giuffre was trafficked to was Prince Andrew”.

The Royal has repeatedly denied the allegations, but pressure is growing for him to speak to FBI investigators. 

Andrew has been involved in an “acrimonious wrangle” with US authorities over answering questions about his relationship with Epstein, says The Times. Prosecutors claim that the Prince has ignored formal requests to help with their investigations.

“We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us, we would like to have the benefit of his statement,” New York attorney Strauss said at this week’s press conference following Maxwell’s arrest. 

“I have no further comment beyond what I just said, which is that our doors remain open, as we previously said, and we would welcome him coming in and giving us an opportunity to hear his statement.”

However, a source close to the Prince told The Sun that his lawyers had repeatedly “reached out” to lawyers on “a senior level” in the US in the past four weeks, but had received no reply.

“The Duke’s team remains bewildered given that we have twice communicated with the DOJ in the last month and to date we have had no response,” the source said.

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