Ghislaine Maxwell played a “critical role” in sexually abusing and grooming underage girls with disgraced paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, including at her London home, prosecutors in the US have said.
The former girlfriend of billionaire financier Epstein was arrested by the FBI in Bedford, New Hampshire, on Thursday morning on charges she conspired to abuse minors.
The charges relate to historical child sex abuse between 1994 and “until at least 1997” and the cases against the socialite were the “prequel” to an earlier case brought against Epstein.
Audrey Strauss, acting US attorney for the southern district of New York, said Ms Maxwell, who will appear before a magistrates court in New Hampshire later on Thursday, was one of Epstein’s “closest associates” and played a “critical role” in identifying the alleged victims.
She added that Ms Maxwell would discuss sexual topics with the victims and undress in order to “normalise” the abuse.
Ms Strauss added: “After developing a rapport with the victims, Maxwell then tried to normalise sexual abuse with a minor victim through a process known as grooming.”
ITV News Washington Correspondent Robert Moore and Royal Editor Chris Ship explain the implications of Maxwell's arrest
The indictment says the alleged victims were made to give sexualised massages where they were partially or fully nude. The abuse allegedly took place in Epstein’s town house in New York, his Palm Beach mansion in Florida, another of his properties in Sante Fe, New Mexico and Maxwell’s London home.
Ms Strauss told the press conference: “In addition to allegedly enabling and participating in the sexual abuse of young victims, Maxwell compounded her crimes by repeatedly lying in 2016 when she was questioned under oath and we have charged those lies in two perjury counts.
“Maxwell lied because the truth as alleged was almost unspeakable, Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them.”
Ms Strauss said she would “welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us to have the benefit of his statement” but added she would not comment further on the Duke of York in relation to the investigation.
“I’m not going to comment on anyone’s status in this investigation but I will say that we would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us, we would like to have the benefit of his statement,” she said.
“I have no further comment beyond what I just said, which is that our doors remain open, as we previously said, and we would welcome him coming in and giving us an opportunity to hear his statement.”
ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship tweeted that a source close to Prince Andrew said: "The Duke's team remains bewildered given we have twice communicated with the Department of Justice in the last month and to-date we have had no response."
Ghislaine Maxwell, the daughter of former media mogul Robert Maxwell, was the former girlfriend of the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, who abused dozens of underage girls.
She is accused of helping Epstein groom victims for the rich and famous.
One of the teenage victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, claimed in a defamation lawsuit that Ms Maxwell was involved in the grooming process for Epstein.
Ms Giuffre has previously claimed she was trafficked by Epstein and alleges Prince Andrew had sex with her on three separate occasions, including when she was 17, still a minor under US law.
Andrew, who categorically denies he had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Ms Giuffre, stepped down from royal life last year after his car crash Newsnight interview, in which he failed to show remorse over his friendship with Epstein.
Epstein, a registered sex offender, was arrested last summer on new federal charges relating to the exploitation of dozens of underage girls in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.
The billionaire, who had links Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew, killed himself in jail last August as he awaited trial.
One day before his death, federal appeals court released a transcript of a 2016 deposition in which Epstein repeatedly refused to say whether Maxwell had helped him groom young girls for him.
Maxwell’s whereabouts had been unknown since Epstein’s death but his victims have repeatedly called on her to face police regarding her alleged involvement in his crimes.
Some of the alleged abuse has been detailed in Netflix’s new four-part series Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, which explored how Epstein used his wealth and power to carry out his abuse.
The documentary, which was released on May 27, will feature first-hand accounts from a "sisterhood of survivors", some of whom are speaking for the first time.
The trailer talks of a "spiderweb of people" involved with billionaire paedophile Epstein and includes the well-known image of Prince Andrew with his arm around the waist of a young Ms Giuffre.
Prince Andrew has previously spoken to prosecutors in the United States, following on from his interview with Newsnight last year.
His legal team said he has offered to help the US investigators on three occasions - despite their claims to the contrary.
A statement from his lawyers Blackfords LLP said: "The Duke of York has on at least three occasions this year offered his assistance as a witness to the Department of Justice."
Prince Andrew has vehemently denied claims from Jeffrey Epstein's victims that they were trafficked to him for sex.
He also denied ever seeing or witnessing any wrongdoing when he stayed at Epstein's homes during their friendship.