(Reuters) - Women who have accused Jeffrey Epstein of sexual abuse filed lawsuits against Deutsche Bank AG and JPMorgan Chase & Co on Thursday, alleging the banks financially benefited from the late financier's alleged sex trafficking operations.
The women, who were not identified in the court filings, cite U.S. federal anti-sex trafficking laws and are seeking class action status, according to two separate lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
"We believe this claim lacks merit and will present our arguments in court," Deutsche Bank said in a statement.
Representatives for JPMorgan declined to comment on the lawsuit, first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Epstein killed himself in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Aug. 10, 2019, while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. His longtime associate, British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for helping to recruit and groom underage girls over the course of at least a decade, filing an appeal in July.
In the lawsuits filed Thursday, the plaintiffs accuse the banks of "providing the requisite financial support for the continued operation of Epstein’s international sex trafficking organization" in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a U.S. law used to target illegal conspiracies that originally was designed to target organized crime.
"Epstein’s sex-trafficking venture was not possible without the assistance and complicity of a financial institution—specifically, a banking institution—which provided his operation with an appearance of legitimacy and special treatment to the sex-trafficking venture, thereby ensuring its continued operation and sexual abuse and sex-trafficking of young women and girls," lawyers for the anonymous plaintiff wrote in the Deutsche Bank lawsuit.
The filings come as New York on Thursday opened up a one-year period allowing adult sex abuse victims to file cases that previously would have been too old to be considered in court.
In June, a federal court in Manhattan separately ruled Deutsche Bank must face a separate lawsuit from a shareholder who alleged the bank concealed its actions while conducting business with risky wealthy clients such as Epstein.
(Reporting by Megan Davies and Susan Heavey; Editing by Daniel Wallis)