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Monday, May 10, 2021

Explained: Who is Ghislaine Maxwell and what are the charges against her?

Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and late Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend, is accused of being part of a sex trafficking racket by the convicted paedophile Epstein and was arrested in July 2020 in the US where she had been hiding.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 26, 2021 4:24:59 pm
Ghislaine MaxwellAudrey Strauss, acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, speaks alongside William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office, at a news conference announcing charges against Ghislaine Maxwell for her role in the sexual exploitation and abuse of minor girls by Jeffrey Epstein in New York City. (Photo: Reuters)

On Friday, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell pleaded not guilty to federal sex trafficking charges that were brought against her last month.

The charges are related to the case involving her and late Jeffrey Epstein, in which Maxwell is alleged to have been involved in the recruitment and sexual exploitation of girls. Maxwell appeared in the Manhattan federal court on Friday, making her first in-person appearance in court since she was arrested in July 2020. She is currently in a New York jail awaiting trial.

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Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?

Maxwell, a British socialite and Epstein’s former girlfriend, is accused of being part of a sex trafficking racket by the convicted paedophile Epstein and was arrested in July 2020 in the US where she had been hiding. Maxwell was in a relationship with billionaire Epstein during the 90s during which time she is alleged to have helped him to sexually exploit girls.

When Epstein, a former business mogul, was arrested in July 2019, the extent of the scandal sparked a global outcry, over what was seen as an example of plutocratic misuse of power.

In March this year, two new US federal charges were filed against Maxwell, that of being a part of a sex trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking of a minor. Before these two charges were added to the indictment, Maxwell already faced six more. She has so far denied all these charges.

But the prosecutors maintain that Maxwell helped Epstein groom and recruit girls as young as 14 years. Further, the indictment states that in or around 1994, upto at least 1997 Maxwell “assisted, facilitated and contributed” to Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by helping him to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse the victims that “were known to Maxwell” and were under the age of 18. The indictment goes on to say that as part of their scheme, Maxwell and Epstein enticed and caused minor victims to travel to Epstein’s residences in different states that Maxwell knew would lead to them being ultimately sexually abused.

Significantly, between 1994 and 1997, Maxwell was in an intimate and professional relationship with Epstein and was even paid by him to take care of some of his properties, the indictment mentions. Three minor victims were included in the indictment so far, but it was amended in March after which two more charges were added against her after a fourth alleged victim was added to the case. As per the BBC, if she is convicted of all the charges she could be sentenced to a prison sentence of up to 80 years.

How was the case brought to light?

Epstein 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 this courtroom sketch, Ghislaine Maxwell, far right, appears in Manhattan Federal court seated next to her attorney Bobbi C. Sternheim, second from left, along with her sister Isabel Maxwell, far left, during her arraignment on a superceding indictment, Friday, April 23, 2021, in New York. (AP Photo)

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 and 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.

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. On the day of his arrest, lewd photographs of girls were found in a safe inside one of Epstein’s houses raising questions about the Justice Department’s handling of his case, The New York Times reported.

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Although his death effectively concluded the criminal trial, the alleged victims called for investigations against co-perpetrators to continue.

In November 2019, 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, after which Andrew stepped away from his royal duties.

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