British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has lived a life of extreme privilege.
She grew up in a 53-room mansion; owned a private helicopter; had a yacht named after her; and acquired many friends in high places.
From Prince Andrew, Elon Musk, Naomi Campbell and Paul Allen to Bill Clinton and Donald Trump — her standing among the elite was cemented from the moment she was born to her media baron father Robert Maxwell and mother Elisabeth.
Her close ties with royalty and celebrities later led her to Jeffrey Epstein — a wealthy American financier who appeared to collect famous friends as readily as he did money. It was an encounter that would ultimately change the course of her life.
Ms Maxwell, 57, and Mr Epstein reportedly dated for a short period in 1992 before breaking up and remaining close friends — often appearing together on the international fashion circuit, and at prestigious events and lavish parties over the decades that followed.
New York Magazine society journalist David Patrick Columbia previously described their relationship as “mysterious”.
“In one way, they are soulmates, yet they are hardly companions anymore,” he wrote.
“It’s a nice conventional relationship, where they serve each other’s purposes.”
He also provided an insight into Ms Maxwell’s social life, saying, “One is just as apt to see Russian ladies of the night as one is to see Prince Andrew” at her parties.
But with Mr Epstein now under federal indictment on charges of sexually trafficking and abusing girls — he pleaded not guilty on all counts — there are mounting questions about Ms Maxwell’s connection to the 66-year-old businessman.
Mr Epstein’s New York indictment refers to unnamed employees who prosecutors say were involved in his alleged crimes in the early 2000s by accepting payment to arrange massages that led to sex acts with young girls, then encouraging them to recruit others.
“Through these victim recruiters, Epstein gained access to and was able to abuse dozens of additional minor girls,” the indictment reads.
According to multiple court filings reviewed by the Miami Herald, lawyers for one alleged victim claimed that Mr Epstein and Ms Maxwell acted as the leaders of an “organised crime family” and that Ms Maxwell helped traffic girls and women to powerful figures.
According to the documents, Ms Maxwell lured the alleged victims into the sex ring by offering them modelling, fashion, and educational opportunities. Two of the women alleged that Mr Epstein and Ms Maxwell together sexually assaulted them, according to court documents.
Ms Maxwell was described in accuser Sarah Ransome’s 2017 legal case as the “highest-ranking employee” of Mr Epstein’s alleged sex-trafficking enterprise. She managed his household and sex life, developed recruiting plans and helped conceal the activity from law enforcement, Ms Ransome alleged.
The New York Times reports that one former employee of Mr Epstein’s Florida mansion referred to Ms Maxwell as the “lady of the house”.
Euan Rellie, an investment banker who attended dinner parties that she and Mr Epstein hosted in New York, said she “seemed to be half ex-girlfriend, half employee, half best friend, and fixer”. Court documents show that one of Mr Epstein’s accusers described Ms Maxwell as his “madam”.
Ms Maxwell has repeatedly denied accusations against her and has never been charged.
But in recent years, she has struck confidential settlements in civil court with two of the women who say she participated in Mr Epstein’s sexual exploitation of them, according to the The N ew York Times.
Mr Epstein was spared from a heavy prison sentence on similar allegations a decade ago as part of a controversial non-prosecution agreement, binding only on federal prosecutors in Florida, where the deal was made, not on authorities in New York.
That unusual deal, initially filed in secret, went as far as to bar the federal government from charging “any potential co-conspirators of Epstein”. But thousands of sealed records from one of those cases are expected to be opened in coming weeks, potentially revealing more about Mr Epstein’s alleged sexually predatory behaviour and Ms Maxwell’s relationship with him.
Among those documents are around 2000 pages from a 2015 defamation case filed by Virginia Giuffre. In a 2009 legal case, Ms Giuffre publicly claimed Ms Maxwell had recruited her into Mr Epstein’s sex ring to be a “sex slave” when she was just 16 years old.
After being recruited, she says, she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz. She also claimed in the case, which was settled out of court, that Ms Maxwell and Mr Epstein sexually assaulted her, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Ms Maxwell called Ms Giuffre’s claims “entirely false”, compelling the latter to file the 2015 defamation suit. In May 2017, the case was settled the day before the trial was scheduled to start.
A US District Court judge ordered a significant portion of the filings to be sealed and the records that were made public were heavily blacked out. The appeals court on July 2 ruled that some of the documents should be unsealed and required a lower-court judge to review the rest and unseal them if appropriate next week.
Speaking of the potential consequences of Mr Epstein’s indictment, David Boies, the lawyer representing Ms Giuffre, told the Miami Herald: “The one person most likely in jeopardy is Maxwell because the records that are going to be unsealed have so much evidence against her.”
Last weekend — just a week after the new charges brought by New York federal prosecutors against Mr Epstein became public — Ms Maxwell’s environmental non-profit organisation involved in protecting the world’s oceans, the TerraMar Project, shut down. The website posted a message saying it was “sad to announce that it will cease all operations”.
Mr Epstein is facing up to 45 years in prison if convicted on the sex trafficking and conspiracy charges.
Originally published as Billionaire’s ‘Lady of the House’