The death of Jeffrey Epstein last August refreshed the focus on the British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, a woman accused of recruiting and grooming underage girls for sexual abuse by the billionaire financier and others.
Maxwell has kept a low profile since the death of Epstein but on Thursday it was reported she had been arrested by the FBI in New Hampshire.
Some of Epstein’s alleged victims have said she lured them into his circle, where they were sexually abused by him and powerful friends.
Epstein, 66, had been awaiting trial after being was charged with numerous sex trafficking offences when he was found dead at a high-security centre in Manhattan.
His alleged suicide came just hours after the release of thousands of documents relating to the case against him, included rafts of allegations against him and other powerful men, including Prince Andrew.
But 57-year-old Ghislaine Maxwell also features prominently in them. She spent nearly two decades at Epstein’s side and, in the wake of his death, the British socialite is facing renewed scrutiny.
Her family history
Maxwell’s intriguing story starts long before she began to rub shoulders with Epstein. The youngest daughter of media mogul Robert Maxwell – whose empire once included the Mirror Group Newspapers and Macmillan publishers – Maxwell lived a life of privilege from the very beginning, growing up in a 53-room Buckinghamshire mansion before attending the University of Oxford.
The Maxwell’s family friends included aristocrats, prominent British politicians (thanks to Robert’s time as an MP) and – allegedly – Donald Trump. But in 1991, shortly after Maxwell had moved to New York, tragedy struck.
On November 5, 1991, her father mysteriously died after falling from his yacht, named the Lady Ghislaine, with his naked body being recovered from the ocean near the Canary Islands the day after he fell.
It took two post mortems to decide the cause of death was heart failure but the reason why Maxwell made his way to the back of the boat in the night, after radioing the crew from his cabin, remains unclear.
As the Independent previously reported, numerous shocking revelations came to light in the days after Maxwell’s death, as it was revealed that he was in millions of pounds of debt and had embezzled funds from his employees’ pension funds, leaving the Maxwell empire in tatters.
Ghislaine moved to a “modest Eastside apartment”, reports the New York Times, but when Epstein came into her life, luxury was on the cards once again.
Association with Epstein
Maxwell’s relationship with Epstein is widely reported to have began in 1992 and, at first, was romantic.
The date of their split is unclear but even more murky is the role Maxwell took on afterwards. The pair remained close friends (with Epstein describing her as “his best friend” in a 2003 Vanity Fair profile) but, on top of this, Maxwell appeared to play a role in many other areas of Epstein’s life.
She was also a frequent traveller on Epstein’s private plane, which was nicknamed the “Lolita Express”, while his private island in the US Virgin Islands was sometimes referred to as “Orgy Island” or the “Island of Sin”.
In legal depositions, she has been called everything from his “main girlfriend”, who was allegedly in charge of hiring all staff in his various mansions, to the “lady of the house” and an “aggressive assistant”. Maxwell has denied these claims.
The accusations against Maxwell
While Maxwell has never previously faced criminal charges, she has been the subject of civil lawsuits – often named alongside Epstein.
In 2015, a woman later revealed to be Virginia Giuffre sued Maxwell, claiming she recruited her to have sex with Epstein in 1999, when she was still a minor. Roberts also alleged that Maxwell and Epstein had trafficked other underage girls to parties at the latter’s mansion.
Maxwell has persistently denied these claims, and any involvement in Epstein’s crimes. This lawsuit was settled out of court but it has recently come back to haunt Maxwell.
Hours before Epstein’s death, unsealed court documents revealed new details about her alleged involvement in sex trafficking.
In the papers, Johanna Sjoberg, another alleged Epstein victim, said she was approached by “perfect stranger” Maxwell, who “lured” her to Epstein’s home with the promise of a “legitimate job” in 2001.
Sjoberg said that, once she was at the party, Prince Andrew touched her breast while sitting on a couch inside the billionaire’s Manhattan apartment.
Buckingham Palace said the allegations are “categorically untrue” and Maxwell has also denied the allegations.
A second lawsuit against Maxwell and Epstein was lodged in 2016, from a woman who claimed the former hired her to give the billionaire massages and threatened her if she did not meet his sexual demands. This case was settled out of court in 2018.
What happened on Thursday?
Maxwell was arrested by the FBI in New Hampshire on Thursday and was due to appear in federal court the same day.
The US Attorney for the Southern District of New York said in a news release it would announce charges later in the day against Maxwell “for her role in the sexual exploitation and abuse of multiple minor girls by Jeffrey Epstein”.
Federal prosecutors said in court papers she had “enticed and caused minor victims to travel to Epstein’s residence in different states” and that Maxwell would assist in their “grooming for and subjection to sexual abuse”.
One part of the indictment reads: “In some instances, Maxwell was present for and participated in the sexual abuse of minor victims.”
Prosecutors charged that Maxwell was well aware of Epstein’s preference for minor girls, and that he intended to sexually abuse them.