Ghislaine Maxwell accused of preying on young girls for Epstein to abuse

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Ms Maxwell's high-profile trial is expected to last six weeks in New York City

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell preyed on and groomed young girls for convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein to abuse, prosecutors have alleged.

Ms Maxwell appeared in court in New York on Monday for the first day of her trial on sex trafficking charges.

She denies the charges and her defence claims she is being used as a scapegoat for Epstein's crimes, following his death in prison in 2019.

But prosecutors argue the pair were "partners in crime" in sex abuse.

Ms Maxwell has been in a US jail since her arrest last year, and faces up to 80 years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors say Ms Maxwell, who also has American and French citizenship, recruited and groomed underage girls for her long-term companion Epstein to abuse.

"She preyed on vulnerable young girls, manipulated them, and served them up to be sexually abused," Assistant District Attorney Lara Pomerantz said in her opening statement.

Epstein died in a New York prison cell on 10 August 2019 as he awaited trial on sex trafficking charges in a federal case. His death was ruled to be a suicide.

Prosecutors argue Ms Maxwell was "essential" to Epstein's abuse, while the defence said Maxwell was only on trial because they cannot bring him to justice.

"The charges against Ghislaine Maxwell are for things that Jeffrey Epstein did, but she is not Jeffrey Epstein," her lawyer Bobbi Sternheim argued.

Ms Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to eight charges of sex trafficking and other crimes.

The allegations at trial cover the period 1994 to 2004. Prosecutors allege Ms Maxwell was a "right-hand" partner for Epstein, helping to groom vulnerable teenage girls as young as 14 for abuse at his luxurious residences.

They described her as "the lady of the house" who "helped normalise abusive sexual conduct".

Ms Maxwell's lawyers will argue her accusers might have faulty memories caused by time and contamination "by outside information, constant media reports and other influences".

A view from the courtroom

By Pratiksha Ghildial, BBC News reporter in New York

Wearing a pale jumper and glasses, Ghislaine Maxwell sat alongside two of her attorneys listening and periodically taking notes during Monday's proceedings. The prosecutor Lara Pomerantz painted a picture of her as being key to Jeffrey Epstein's alleged "pyramid scheme of abuse" of young girls by normalising sexual behaviour under a veneer of respectability.

Speaking from behind a glass screen mounted on a podium inside the courtroom, Pomerantz specifically spoke about one accuser who she said was befriended by Maxwell and Epstein on the pretext of bright future opportunities.

Maxwell's team in turn argued that she was being punished for Epstein's crimes and that this case was about "memory, manipulation and money".

In the coming days, four alleged victims are expected to testify. The prosecution also plans to get some of Jeffrey Epstein's staff to testify, along with presenting evidence from flight logs of his private plane and Fedex records of gifts sent to the alleged victims.

At least a couple of other accusers of Epstein - not connected to this trial - came to listen to the opening statements. One of them told me that she was feeling "many emotions" and came to show solidarity to the alleged victims.

It's not yet clear if Ghislaine Maxwell will take the stand to testify.

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Image caption,
Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell in New York in 2005

What are the charges?

Four charges relate to the years 1994-97 when Ms Maxwell was, according to an indictment, among Epstein's closest associates and also in an "intimate relationship" with him.

Two other charges - of sex trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking of a minor - came in an amended indictment and relate to the period 2001 and 2004.

Sarah Ransome, one of Epstein's alleged victims, told the BBC's Panorama programme that Ms Maxwell worked closely with him.

She said: "Ghislaine controlled the girls. She was like the madam. She was like the nuts and bolts of the sex trafficking operation."

Timeline: Arrests and charges

Epstein arrest and death

Financier Jeffrey Epstein is arrested in New Jersey after returning from France on a private jet. Federal charges accuse Epstein of trafficking a “vast network” of underage girls for sex.

He kills himself in a New York jail 36 days after his arrest.

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Ghislaine Maxwell arrest 

British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell is arrested in New Hampshire and accused of helping Epstein groom his victims.

Charges accuse her of befriending girls as young as 14 and enticing them into having sexual relations with Epstein. One alleged victim told the BBC that she “controlled the girls - she was like Madam”.

Prosecutors claim the abuse occurred in locations around the world, including Ms Maxwell’s London home.

She pleads not guilty. A judge denies her bail, calling her a flight risk.

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A second set of charges

Two new US federal charges of sex trafficking conspiracy and sex trafficking of a minor are filed against Ms Maxwell, adding to the six she already faced.

Prosecutors say a fourth victim has been identified. The victim was allegedly abused in 2001 when she was 14 years old. Ms Maxwell denies these charges.

First court appearance

Ms Maxwell appears in court for the first time, pleading not guilty to multiple charges of sex abuse, sex-trafficking and perjury.

Her defence lawyers argue that the conditions in her Brooklyn jail are inhumane and argue that she is “being treated horribly”. She is denied bail.

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Trial begins

Ms Maxwell trial begins in New York, where she has been in jail since her arrest.

Earlier in November, a jury candidate pool of over 600 New Yorkers was whittled down to 12 jury members.

Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?

Born outside Paris on Christmas Day, 1961, Ms Maxwell grew up in a country mansion, went to Oxford University and speaks several languages.

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Ghislaine Maxwell was said to be very close to her late father Robert Maxwell

She is the youngest child of late media mogul Robert Maxwell.

She is said to have had a very close relationship with her late father, and he named his luxury yacht - the Lady Ghislaine - after her.

Soon after her father's death in 1991, Ms Maxwell left the UK to settle in America, where she worked in real estate, and not long after met Jeffrey Epstein.

She sold her Manhattan townhouse in 2016, and kept a low profile until she was arrested last July at her secluded mansion in the state of New Hampshire.

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Media caption,
Ian Maxwell says his sister Ghislaine "is losing her hair" in prison