Ghislaine Maxwell: Who is the British socialite as her sex trafficking trial begins?

The role Ghislaine Maxwell played in the life of the deceased convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein will be determined in the coming weeks, reports ITV News US correspondent Emma Murphy.

Remarks by ITV News Foreign Producer Natasha Tierney

Opening statements begin in a federal courtroom in New York on Monday, as the highly anticipated Ghislaine Maxwell trial gets underway.

The 59-year-old British socialite has been accused of helping her former friend and partner Jeffrey Epstein traffic and abuse underage girls, and has spent more than 16 months in a Brooklyn jail after being denied freedom under bail.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to all charges and has repeatedly appealed to the judge that she does not present a flight risk and that she should be granted bail.

She faces up to 80 years behind bars if she is convicted.

Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Born in Oxfordshire in 1961, Maxwell is the youngest of nine children of media mogul Robert Maxwell.

Robert Maxwell died suddenly in 1991 when he fell off his yacht in the Canary Islands, and it was later discovered that he was heavily in debt and had committed pension fraud. Following the death of his father and the media storm that followed, her youngest daughter moved to New York and she soon socialized in influential political circles. It was around the same time that she was first introduced to Epstein.

During his relationship in the 1990s and early 2000s, Maxwell is accused of helping Epstein recruit, traffic, and abuse underage girls on various of his properties in the United States and in the Foreign. Epstein died in 2019 while in jail awaiting trial on multiple federal sex trafficking charges.

Having evaded authorities for nearly a year after Epstein's death, Maxwell was arrested in July 2020, when the FBI found her at her New Hampshire mansion of hers.

Why is she being judged?

Maxwell is being tried on six charges related to the sex trafficking of underage girls.

The charges are: conspiracy to entice a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; enticing a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts; conspiracy to transport a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity; conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors; and sex trafficking of minors.

Maxwell is also facing two counts of perjury, which will be dealt with at a separate trial.

Her lawyers and family have argued that she is being made a "scape-goat" for Epstein, who never faced trial, and that she was never aware of the crimes he committed.

Maxwell’s family have appealed to the United Nations to investigate what they describe as her ‘inhumane’ treatment inside the New York prison where she is currently being held.

Who was Jeffrey Epstein?

Epstein was a wealthy hedge fund manager and financier, who rose to prominence during the 1980s and 90s through his relationships with high profile figures such as Bill ClintonDonald TrumpBill Gates and Prince Andrew.

Epstein hosted a number of famous figures at his homes in Palm Beach, New York, New Mexico and the US Virgin Islands, and has been accused of trafficking his underage victims between these locations.

In 2008, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida for soliciting prostitution with a minor, and served 13 months in a state work-release programme. This sentence allowed him to avoid federal prosecution at the time, and a lengthy prison sentence.

A decade later, a Miami Herald investigation sparked new interest in the case, and federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein with sex trafficking and conspiracy. While awaiting trial in 2019, Epstein was found dead in his cell in a New York prison aged 66.

Many of his alleged victims have said they see Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial as their opportunity to finally get justice.

Who will testify at Ghislaine Maxwell’s trial?

The trial will centre around the testimonies of four alleged victims, all of whom claim they were abused by Maxwell between 1994 and 2004, when under the age of 18.

They are referred to in the indictment as 'minor victims 1, 2, 3 and 4' to protect their identities, and will be referred to by only their first names or initials during the trial. The court artist has been instructed not to portray them with too much detail, although one alleged victim has waived her right to anonymity.

One of the alleged victims was 17 years old when she says Maxwell and Epstein groomed and later abused her in London - above the UK age of consent. The judge has ruled she will still permit her testimony, but the jury will be instructed that they are not allowed to convict Maxwell based on the alleged victim’s age in this instance.

Meanwhile, the defense plans to call several prominent expert witnesses, including Professor Elizabeth Loftus, an expert on "false memories," who testified on behalf of Harvey Weinstein.

Loftus will argue that the intense coverage of the case over many years may have altered the perception of the facts by the alleged victims.

Will Prince Andrew's allegations be addressed?

Although it is not yet clear what high-profile names could come up during the trial, prosecutors have chosen not to call Virginia Giuffre in this case. Giuffre claims that she was sexually assaulted by Prince Andrew while in London with Maxwell and Epstein, and she is currently filing a civil lawsuit against the Duke of York, who has denied all allegations.

The judge has said that the prosecution may call additional witnesses for the four minor victims, but Giuffre's legal team has confirmed that she will not be present.

How long will the trial last?

The trial is expected to last about six weeks, with a break over Christmas weekend, when Maxwell will also celebrate his 60th birthday.