A former British prime minister, a senior royal and a millionaire socialite – the list of names that surfaced in the reporting on the Jeffrey Epstein scandal is a veritable who’s who of high society.
As the enigmatic and already-disgraced financier awaits trial yet again in a US jail, the unsealing of documents from a 2017 court case are likely to make public even more sordid details of his life, and possibly, those of some notable others.
Who is Jeffrey Epstein?
Jeffrey Epstein is a multi-millionaire financier, who owns a private jet, a string of properties including his own island, and an address book that lists, among others, the personal numbers of Donald Trump and Prince Andrew.
The story of Epstein’s downfall spans decades and begins in the 1980s when the New Yorker built a hugely successful career as a financier, eventually forming a company that only managed the assets of individuals worth more than a billion dollars.
Mingling with, and managing the wealth of, the global elite allowed Epstein to form not only business relationships, but also friendships with people such as film director Woody Allen, then-businessman Donald Trump and former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak.
There has been no suggestion that Epstein’s conduct was widely known or approved of by friends or business associates.
Epstein was generous – his private Boeing 727-200 jet took Clinton and actors Kevin Spacey and Chris Tucker on a tour of African countries in September 2002.
But behind the champagne, parties and globe-trotting there was a far darker and seedier side to Epstein’s life. His private island in the US Virgin Islands was sometimes referred to as “Orgy Island” or the “Island of Sin”, and his private jet was dubbed the “Lolita Express”.
A 2002 quote from Trump nods to the scandal that would eventually bring Epstein to that Manhattan jail cell.
“I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy,” Trump booms from a speakerphone. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it — Jeffrey enjoys his social life.”
The first court case
In 2005 a 14-year-old girl said she had been paid $300 to strip and massage Epstein at his mansion in Florida. An undercover police operation was launched and a number of other underage girls came forward with similar allegations.
In a plea deal three years later, Epstein pleaded guilty to one count to procuring for prostitution an underage girl, was sentenced to 18 months in prison and became a registered sex offender.
In exchange, the US Justice Department’s agreed not to prosecute him on similar charges.
But Epstein’s 18 months in prison would only be 13 months and the terms of his detention were so lenient, the man who oversaw them, then-Miami attorney Alexander Acosta, stepped down as Trump’s labour secretary earlier this month amid fresh scrutiny of the case.
While Epstein served the term, he was permitted to leave the jail to work for 12 hours a day, six days a week.
The investigation, eventually headed by the FBI, resulted in a 53-page indictment that was sealed and never publicly released.
Epstein’s name wasn’t the only one to surface in the allegations of sex trafficking.
In the years after his conviction, a number of civil cases from individual complainants were brought, including that of Virginia Roberts (now Virginia Giuffre) who claimed she had been held as a sex slave by Epstein and forced to have sex with Prince Andrew.
In 2015, Giuffre, said she that between 1999 and 2002 she was sexually abused by Epstein and “loaned” out to his wealthy, powerful friends, including the Duke of York.
She also claims videos of her abuse exist, as Epstein hid cameras around his home.
Prince Andrew and Buckingham Palace have repeatedly denied the claims.
In the legal documents, released on Friday, Johanna Sjoberg, another alleged Epstein victim, said Andrew touched her breast while sitting on a couch inside the billionaire’s Manhattan apartment in 2001.
Buckingham Palace said the allegations are “categorically untrue”.
Giuffre also claimed that person who arranged the procurement and distribution of underage girls was a long-time British friend/partner of Epstein called Ghislaine Maxwell.
Maxwell is the daughter of Robert Maxwell, the multi-millionaire Mirror Group publishing tycoon and fraudster who died after falling from his yacht in 1991. After her father’s death she moved to New York where she quickly became an integral part of Epstein’s high-flying life.
In 2015 Maxwell accused Giuffre of lying. Giuffre then sued her for defamation and the case was settled under seal in 2017, which means the terms of the settlement were not made public.
Maxwell was also named in a number of other civil cases, accused of procuring girls.
In a further twist, Giuffre alleged in a lawsuit she was groomed at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s golf resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
The second court case
Epstein was arrested on 6 July of this year on charges of sex trafficking in underage girls. He was detained as he arrived at a New Jersey airport on a private jet from Paris, where he has yet another home.
His lawyers have argued the agreement reached with federal prosecutors in 2008 disallows the charges and they say he has committed no new crimes.
Epstein pleaded not guilty to charges he abused dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida and he is being held without bail in a Manhattan jail, where he was found with injuries to his neck last month.
US District Judge Richard Berman said last week that June 2020 is the earliest Epstein will stand trial.
The documents under seal
While Epstein waits for his latest trial, another court case is likely to have far-reaching implications much sooner.
In March of this year a US court ordered the documents from Giuffre’s 2017 defamation suit against Maxwell to be unsealed after extensive reporting on the wider case by the Miami Herald.
In short, the documents are expected to contain details of an international sex trafficking operation allegedly run by Epstein and Maxwell, and could provide further mentions of other prominent individuals.
Epstein was found dead in prison on Saturday at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan.
He died of apparent suicide and his body was discovered on Saturday morning at 7.30am local time (11.30am GMT).
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated Epstein’s address book contained Tony Blair’s personal phone number. His office have made clear they know of no such number ever being passed to Epstein.