Updated: July 9, 2020 7:15:37 am
Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite accused of being part of a sex trafficking racket by the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested last week in the US, where she had been hiding. Her arrest is the latest development in the legal battle to provide justice to Epstein’s victims.
When Epstein, a former business mogul, was arrested in July last year, the extent of the scandal sparked a global outcry, over what was seen as an example of plutocratic misuse of power, and the fact that several of Epstein’s victims were minors – some as young as 14. A month after his arrest, Epstein killed himself in prison pending trial.
The handling of the case left many wondering why the former tycoon was not treated with the full force of the law when the police first investigated him over a decade ago.
What is the Jeffrey Epstein scandal?
Jeffrey Epstein was a successful financier, who was accused by the US Justice Department of running a racket in which girls as young as 14 were lured to his residences, where he would abuse them. Epstein allegedly made the girls give him nude and semi-nude massages, and engage in sexual acts with him.
His circle of friends is known to have included President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton, and the British royal Prince Andrew.
In 2008, federal prosecutors signed a controversial non-prosecution agreement with Epstein, due to which he received a light sentence of 18 months, which too, was curtailed by five months.
In 2017, Alexander Acosta, one of the prosecutors who negotiated the plea deal with Epstein, was appointed Labour Secretary in the Trump cabinet. Following this, extensive investigative reporting by the Miami Herald brought the case back in attention, and the matter was also raised before a Senate hearing. The #MeToo movement added to public outcry against Epstein.
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Then in February 2019, a court ruled that the non-prosecution agreement, which was signed without the knowledge of Epstein’s victims, violated federal law. The trial was reopened the same month.
In July that year, the 66-year-old Epstein was arrested on multiple charges including sex trafficking. A month later, he killed himself in his prison cell.
Although his death effectively concluded the criminal trial, the alleged victims called for investigations against co-perpetrators to continue.
In November last year, the scandal caught up with Prince Andrew, the younger son of Queen Elizabeth II, who faced renewed scrutiny over allegations of having sex with a minor, and for his ties with Epstein. Andrew then stepped away from his royal duties.
Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Maxwell, a British socialite and Epstein’s former girlfriend, faces a number of charges, including recruiting and grooming underage girls for Epstein.
During the past year, 58-year-old Maxwell was hiding at various locations in the northeastern US. Federal authorities had been tracking her movements and finally apprehended her on July 2.
According to the chargesheet filed against Maxwell, she was among Epstein’s “closest associates” and “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Jeffrey Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18.”
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To lure minor victims into their racket, Maxwell and Epstein would first befriend them, taking them out for shopping or to the movies. “Having developed a rapport with a victim, Maxwell would try to normalise sexual abuse for a minor victim by among other things, discussing sexual topics, undressing in front of the victim, being present when a minor victim was undressed, and/or being present for sex acts involving the minor victim and Epstein,” the charge sheet says.
Victims were groomed at Epstein’s properties in New York, Florida, and New Mexico, and at Maxwell’s home in London.
Epstein would offer some victims financial support for travel or education, and Maxwell encouraged them to accept. “As a result, victims were made to feel indebted and believed that Maxwell and Epstein were trying to help them,” the indictment reads. Maxwell has also been accused of being present for and participating in the abuse of minor victims.
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The indictment accuses Maxwell of having “repeatedly lied when questioned about her conduct, including in relation to some of the minor victims”.
Of the six charges brought against Maxwell, five carry a maximum punishment of 5 years’ imprisonment each, and one carries 10 years.
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