News Crime Here’s what you need to know about the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell

Here’s what you need to know about the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell

Ghislaine Maxwell
Ghislaine Maxwell's insist she was made a scapegoat after Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his jail cell. Photo: Getty
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More than two years after the death of disgraced financier and alleged sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, his former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell is standing trial.

In an opening statement in the New York court, a US prosecutor alleged Maxwell “preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up to be sexually abused”.

Between 1994 and 2004, Maxwell — a former employee and romantic partner of Epstein’s — allegedly sent gifts such as lingerie and discussed sexual topics with the girls to win their trust before encouraging them to give Epstein erotic massages, according to the 2021 indictment against her.

“She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them and served them up to be sexually abused,” Assistant District Attorney Lara Pomerantz said in the prosecution’s opening statement.

Maxwell, who appeared in court wearing a white face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic, faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Here’s what you need to know about Maxwell as the trial gets under way.

Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?

Maxwell, 59, is a British socialite who dated Epstein in the 1990s.

The pair travelled extensively and were associated with many prominent people, including former US president Donald Trump and Prince Andrew, Duke of York.

Her father was the late media mogul Robert Maxwell and she is the youngest of nine children.

Mr Maxwell was among the richest men in Britain until his death in 1991, when investors discovered he had siphoned hundreds of millions of pounds from employee pension funds.

What are the charges against her?

In July 2020, Maxwell was arrested and charged with sex trafficking.

Forensic neuropsychologist and attorney Dr Robert A. Beattey, who is a member of the American Bar Association, explained the charges to The New Daily. 

Her charges include:

  • Conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts
  • Enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts
  • Conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity
  • Transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity
  • Perjury (lying under oath)
  • Sex trafficking conspiracy
  • Sex trafficking of a minor.

“In short, she’s accused of procuring and transporting underage girls to engage in sexual conduct,” Dr Beattey said.

Under US federal law, sex trafficking is defined as to: “knowingly recruit, entice, harbour, transport, provide, obtain or maintain a minor, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that the victim is a minor and would be caused to engage in a commercial sex act”.

Prosecutors allege Maxwell groomed girls as young as 14 to have sex with Epstein during the late ’90s-early 2000s and lied about her knowledge of his crimes when she testified in an earlier case.

“Ms Maxwell chose to blatantly disregard the law and her responsibility as an adult, using whatever means she had at her disposal to lure vulnerable youth into behaviour they should never have been exposed to,” FBI assistant director William Sweeney said.

She allegedly groomed victims by befriending them, talking about sexual topics and undressing in front of them and being present while they were abused, according to ABC.

She faces up to 80 years in prison if found guilty.

Media attention

The case has been kept in the media spotlight partly due to Epstein and Maxwell’s connections to prominent people.

One of their alleged victims, Virginia Giuffre, has accused Maxwell of recruiting her from Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate “for the purpose of being trafficked”, according to BBC News.

Ms Giuffre also alleges one of the men she was directed to have sex with at 17 years old was Prince Andrew, allegations he has denied.

What to expect from the trial

Set to begin on Monday (local time) in the US District Court in Manhattan, it will be a trial by jury presided over by US District Judge Alison Nathan.

The courtroom will be open to the public and the trial is expected to take several weeks.

Other key players will be her experienced defence attorneys, including Bobbi Sternheim, while at least four people who were minors in the 1990s are expected to testify, Dr Beattey said.

A key piece of evidence will be an address book, known as the ‘little black book’, which the prosecution said contains evidence of Maxwell’s guilt.

What is her defence?

Epstein died in prison on August 10, 2019 while awaiting trial over sex trafficking charges.

He had pleaded not guilty before his apparent suicide.

Because he died before his case could be heard, questions about his alleged operation and who else may have been involved went largely unanswered.

It also meant that his alleged victims were unable to testify against him.

Maxwell’s defence is expected to argue that a fair trial is impossible because the court of public opinion has already decided she is guilty.

Her lawyers and family maintain that Maxwell is facing a ‘trial by proxy’ for Epstein’s crimes.

“This is not quite a put-up job, but nonetheless has been cobbled together so that Ghislaine is made to face the charges that Epstein never faced,” her brother Ian Maxwell said.

Maxwell’s siblings have repeatedly requested bail for her and have asked the UN to investigate her “inhumane” treatment.

Ian Maxwell has compared Ghislaine’s case to other “famous, infamous people” – including Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and Bernie Madoff  – who were granted bail.

Why was she denied bail?

Maxwell has been in custody for almost 17 months, after Judge Nathan repeatedly denied her bail requests.

“The court’s assessment of the defendant’s history and characteristics has not changed,” Judge Nathan wrote in March.

“The defendant continues to have substantial international ties, familial and personal connections abroad, substantial financial resources, and experience evading detection.”

-with agencies