London, July 3 (IANS) British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, an ex-girlfriend of convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is facing charges in the US after being arrested by the FBI.
She is accused of assisting Epstein’s abuse of minors by helping to recruit and groom victims known to be underage, the BBC reported.
She was arrested in New Hampshire and is due in federal court later on Thursday. Prosecutors will oppose bail.
Maxwell has previously denied any involvement in or knowledge of Epstein’s alleged sexual misconduct.
Epstein died in prison on August 10 as he awaited, without the chance of bail, his trial on sex trafficking charges.
He 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. His death was determined to be suicide.
Prosecutors allege that between 1994 and 1997 Maxwell helped Epstein groom girls as young as 14.
The charges say she would build a rapport with them – including by taking them shopping or to the movies – and would later coax them into giving Epstein massages during which they were sexually abused.
“Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse,” said Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York.
Four of the six charges relate to the years 1994-97 when Maxwell was, according to the indictment, among Epstein’s closest associates and also in an “intimate relationship” with him. The other two charges are allegations of perjury in 2016.
The indictment says Maxwell “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”.
Specifically, she is charged with conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and transporting a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
She is accused of grooming multiple minor girls to engage in sex acts with Epstein. She allegedly attempted to befriend them by asking about their lives and families and then she and Epstein built the friendships by taking minor victims to the cinema or shopping.
Having built a rapport, Maxwell would “try to normalise sexual abuse for a minor victim by… 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”.
“Maxwell and Epstein worked together to entice these minor victims to travel to Epstein’s residences – his residence in New York City on the Upper East Side, as well as Palm Beach, Florida, and Santa Fe, New Mexico,” acting US attorney Audrey Strauss told reporters.
“Some of the acts of abuse also took place in Maxwell’s residence in London, England.”
The perjury counts relate to depositions she gave to a New York court on April 22 and July 22, 2016. The charge sheet says she “repeatedly lied when questioned about her conduct, including in relation to some of the minor victims”.
“Maxwell lied because the truth, as alleged, was almost unspeakable,” said Strauss.
“Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them. She pretended to be a woman they could trust. All the while she was setting them up to be sexually abused by Epstein and, in some cases, by Maxwell herself.”
Allegations against Epstein had dated back years before the parents of a 14-year-old girl said he had molested her in 2005. Under a legal deal, he avoided federal charges and since 2008 was listed as level three on the New York sex offenders register.
But he was arrested again in New York on July 6, 2019 and accused of sex trafficking of underage girls over a number of years.
Some of Epstein’s alleged victims have accused Maxwell of bringing them into his circle to be sexually abused by him and his friends.
One told the BBC’s Panorama that Maxwell “controlled the girls. She was like the Madam”.
Maxwell has denied any wrongdoing.
Earlier this year she sued Epstein’s estate seeking reimbursement for legal fees and security costs. She “receives regular threats to her life and safety”, court documents in that case said.
Another of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, has accused Maxwell of recruiting her as a masseuse to the financier at the age of 15.
Details of that allegation against Maxwell emerged in documents unsealed by a US judge last August in a 2015 defamation case but are not part of the charges against Maxwell unveiled in July 2020.