Sunday 18 August 2019

UK socialite Maxwell now at the centre of underage sex scandal

Social circle: Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at Sandringham, Norfolk – a royal residence – in 2000. Photo: ALBANPIX
Social circle: Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at Sandringham, Norfolk – a royal residence – in 2000. Photo: ALBANPIX

Victoria Ward

Ghislaine Maxwell has routinely been lauded as one of the world's best-connected socialites.

Whip smart, glamorous and charming, she spent years trading on her impeccable contacts, which ranged from politicians to entrepreneurs and royalty.

Yet those wealthy and powerful associates are now likely to be hard to find and quick to downplay their links with a woman embroiled in one of the biggest sex scandals of a generation.

Far from taking the pressure off Ms Maxwell, the death of Jeffrey Epstein is expected to shine an ever brighter spotlight on the woman who had long been a fixture at his side.

Oxford-educated, a qualified helicopter pilot and fluent in several languages, Ms Maxwell (57) was the youngest of Robert Maxwell's nine children - and his favourite.

It was the disgraced media mogul's mysterious death on a £15m yacht in 1991, which he named Lady Ghislaine after his daughter, that would propel Ms Maxwell to New York and into the arms of the now notorious Epstein.

She had just turned 30 when she fled the disgrace of the collapse of her father's empire and the exposure of his plundering of the Mirror Group Newspapers pension fund.

She has been described on Companies House documents as a director, manager and business consultant. But primarily, she was a networker and, as a regular fixture on the New York social scene, she came into the orbit of Epstein.

The pair briefly dated in the early 1990s when Epstein took Ms Maxwell, broken by her father's death, under his wing.

"He saved her," one friend told a 'Vanity Fair' writer. "She's never forgotten that - and never will."

The relationship fizzled out but the pair remained close. Epstein once described Ms Maxwell as his "best friend" but scotched reports she was on his payroll. The exact nature of their relationship has come under the spotlight after they were implicated in a sordid sex-trafficking case.

Court documents state it is "an undisputed fact that multiple witnesses" have testified Ms Maxwell operated as Epstein's "procurer of underage girls" - a claim she has vehemently denied.

Virginia Giuffre, a woman who claims to have been Epstein's teenage "sex slave", alleged in court documents in 2017 she was recruited by Ms Maxwell to give Epstein massages when she was 15.

Ms Giuffre, formerly Roberts, also claims to have had sex with British royal Prince Andrew when she was 17 - an allegation strongly denied by Buckingham Palace.

Ms Maxwell is in the background of a photograph of the duke standing with his arm around a teenage Ms Giuffre's bare midriff.

Ms Giuffre alleges Ms Maxwell "had sex with underage girls virtually every day" and her and Epstein's lives revolved around sex.

Ms Maxwell is also alleged to have recruited Johanna Sjoberg, then 21, who claims she was groped by Prince Andrew while staying at Epstein's New York mansion in 2001.

Ms Maxwell's New York house is said to have been sold in 2016 and she is rumoured to have returned to London. But neighbours say they have not seen her for weeks.

In the wake of Epstein's death, the focus will turn to those closest to him, including Ms Maxwell.

Euan Rellie, an investment banker who has known her for years, told 'New York' magazine: "Ghislaine was funny and didn't take herself too seriously. But she seemed like a woman who didn't have any real job, didn't have any real boyfriend, had lost her dad.

"A woman adrift who was clinging on to whatever she could find." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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