British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has appeared in court accused of facilitating long-time associate Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual exploitation of underage girls.
Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire on Thursday and accused of helping the disgraced financier “identify, befriend and groom” multiple girls, including one as young as 14.
At a brief hearing the same day, a magistrate judge ordered Maxwell to remain in custody while she is transferred to New York for a detention hearing there.
Meanwhile, a source close to the Duke of York said he is “bewildered” by claims made by US authorities that he has not offered to co-operate with the Epstein case.
It comes after Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York, told a press conference that authorities would “welcome” a statement from the duke in relation to the investigation.
Maxwell, daughter of late media mogul Robert Maxwell, has previously denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of sexual misconduct by her former boyfriend Epstein.
The disgraced financier took his own life in prison last year while awaiting trial on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.
Announcing the charges against Maxwell, Ms Strauss claimed that the socialite had helped Epstein to exploit underage girls and “in some cases” would participate in the abuse herself.
“Maxwell was among Epstein’s closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old,” she told reporters.
“Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse.”
Four of the six charges cover Maxwell’s dealings with Epstein from 1994 to 1997, when she was in an “intimate relationship” with him, according to the indictment.
These include conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts and enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.
She is further charged with conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity and transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
According to the indictment, three unnamed minors were allegedly “induced and enticed” by Maxwell, who “facilitated” for them to be groomed by Esptein at properties he owned.
These include residences in New York City, Palm Beach in Florida and Santa Fe in New Mexico, as well as Maxwell’s personal residence in London, prosecutors allege.
The court papers claim that Maxwell “developed a rapport” with the alleged victims, before encouraging them to give massages to Epstein, which often resulted in him sexually abusing the girls.
One of the girls was allegedly groomed and abused in London between 1994 and 1995, with prosecutors claiming this included a period of time when Maxwell knew she was under the age of 18.
Authorities claim that Maxwell, who is also charged with two counts of perjury, lied when being questioned under oath in 2016.
“Maxwell lied because the truth as alleged was almost unspeakable, Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them,” Ms Strauss told reporters.
One of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, claims that she had sex with the duke at the socialite’s London townhouse in 2001.
Maxwell, who has known Andrew since university and introduced him to Epstein, features in the background of a picture which apparently shows the duke with his arm around Ms Giuffre, also known as Virginia Roberts.
Ms Giuffre has claimed she was trafficked by Epstein and alleges the duke had sex with her on three separate occasions, including when she was 17, still a minor under US law.
Andrew categorically denies he had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Ms Giuffre, while his lawyers have insisted the duke has repeatedly offered to provide a witness statement to the investigation.
At the press conference, Ms Strauss told reporters: “I’m not going to comment on anyone’s status in this investigation but I will say that we would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us, we would like to have the benefit of his statement.”
But a source close to the duke’s working group said that his lawyers have twice communicated with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) in the past month.
“The duke’s team remains bewildered given that we have twice communicated with the DOJ in the last month and to date we have had no response,” the source said.