Ghislaine Maxwell: the woman accused of helping Jeffrey Epstein groom girls

The British socialite had a changing relationship with the disgraced financier who was found dead in his New York cell

The death of Jeffrey Epstein over the weekend has put renewed focus on the British socialite and heiress Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been accused in civil court documents of conspiring with the disgraced financier to recruit and groom underage girls for sexual abuse.

Maxwell, 57, the daughter of the late press baron Robert Maxwell, has repeatedly and vehemently denied allegations of involvement in a sex-trafficking network run by Epstein, who was awaiting trial in a New York prison when he died.

Prior to his death, Epstein denied federal charges of sex trafficking involving minors which could have resulted in a 45-year prison sentence. However he faced a mountain of evidence including testimony from alleged victims and documents obtained by prosecutors indicating an elaborate trafficking ring.

Geoffrey Berman, the US attorney for the southern district of New York overseeing the prosecution against Epstein, said over the weekend that the investigation would continue – and hinted at the possibility of prosecution of Epstein’s co-conspirators.

Robert Maxwell poses at the back of his yacht Lady Ghislaine.
Robert Maxwell poses at the back of his yacht Lady Ghislaine. Photograph: taken from picture library

“To those brave young women who have already come forward and to the many others who have yet to do so, let me reiterate that we remain committed to standing for you, and our investigation of the conduct charged in the indictment – which included a conspiracy count – remains ongoing,” he said.

A number of Epstein’s accusers have frequently identified Maxwell as playing a central role in arranging the abuse of his victims. The most recent accusations were contained in more than 2,000 pages of court documents unsealed last week in connection to a civil case that one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre, filed against Maxwell back in 2015.

Giuffre has previously accused Maxwell of recruiting her to work as Epstein’s masseuse at age 15, when the teenager was a locker-room attendant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in south Florida. When Maxwell accused her of being a liar, Giuffre brought the defamation suit, which was settled shortly before trial in 2017.

In documents unsealed on Friday, just a few hours before Epstein was found dead in his cell, Giuffre’s lawyers accused Maxwell of “acting as a madam” for the financier, alleging that “multiple witnesses” had testified that Maxwell was responsible for “recruiting, maintaining, harbouring and trafficking girls for Epstein”. Maxwell has never been criminally charged, and has always denied wrongdoing. Maxwell’s lawyers have not been responding to requests for comment.

Maxwell was the youngest of the nine children of Betty and Robert Maxwell, the latter the owner of the Mirror Group, with Ghislaine rumoured to be his favourite child. The media tycoon and former Labour MP named his £15m ($18.6m) yacht Lady Ghislaine, and put his daughter in charge of his football club, Oxford United.

When Robert Maxwell acquired the New York Daily News, he reportedly sent Ghislaine to warm up Manhattan society for his arrival.

Following her father’s death in 1991 – after apparently falling overboard from Lady Ghislaine near the Canary Islands – Ghislaine Maxwell flew to New York onboard a Concorde. She left behind a huge uproar over $460m found to be missing from her father’s companies’ pensions funds.

Ghislaine Maxwell in New York in 2010.
Ghislaine Maxwell in New York in 2010. Photograph: Billy Farrell Agency / Rex Featu

Her family’s wealth, status and influence considerably depleted, Maxwell found something of a replacement in her relationship with Epstein, whom she reportedly met in the early 1990s after breaking up with Count Gianfranco Cicogna, a member of a wealthy Italian family.

Epstein was a former maths teacher turned investment banker and financier to – among others – the billionaire chairman of Victoria’s Secret, Leslie Wexner. Although Maxwell’s relationship with Epstein was initially romantic, it evolved into something more akin to that of a close friend, confidante and personal assistant.

Epstein bought her a $5m Manhattan townhouse, and she regularly accompanied him on his private jet on trips across the world – and was also a fixture at his mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. She soon became a well-connected transatlantic socialite, pictured with everyone from Donald Trump to Prince Andrew, whom she reportedly introduced to Epstein.

However according to Giuffre, now 35, and other women who claim they were abused by Epstein when they were underage in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Maxwell’s responsibilities included finding and grooming girls to provide the financier – and his wealthy friends – with massages and sexual acts.

Jeffrey Epstein in New York in 2005.
Jeffrey Epstein in New York in 2005. Photograph: Sipa Press/Rex Features

Giuffre has alleged that one of the figures she was coerced into sexual encounters with was Prince Andrew. Buckingham Palace has repeatedly denied the claims, saying “any suggestion of impropriety with underage minors is categorically untrue”.

Maxwell initially appeared to weather the accusations against her associate, following a much-criticised plea deal in 2008, in which Epstein pleaded guilty to a single count of soliciting prostitution from an underage girl under Florida state law but escaped federal charges. He served only 13 months of an 18 month jail sentence.

Despite the prosecution of her former boyfriend and associate, Maxwell initially maintained a lively public profile; she founded a charity, the TerraMar Project, dedicated to preserving the oceans, giving a Ted Talk on the subject and even speaking at the United Nations. In 2010, Maxwell was a guest at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding.

However as the allegations against Epstein continue to mount, Maxwell withdrew from the public eye and distanced herself from the financier. Her Manhattan townhouse, once a notorious party haunt, has been sold, although she retains addresses in London and Salisbury. She has reportedly not been seen at either for weeks. Citing people familiar with the Epstein investigation, the Washington Post reported authorities “have had trouble locating” her.


Miranda Bryant in New York, Paul Lewis and Jim Waterson in London

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