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

What role Ghislaine Maxwell played in late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein's life will be determined in the coming weeks, reports ITV News US Correspondent Emma Murphy

  • Words by ITV News Foreign Producer Natasha Tierney

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

The 59-year-old British socialite has been charged with aiding her former friend and partner Jeffrey Epstein to traffic and abuse underage girls, and has spent more than 16 months in a Brooklyn jail after being denied bail.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and has repeatedly appealed to the judge that she poses no flight risk and should be granted bail.

She is facing up to 80 years behind bars if convicted.

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

Robert Maxwell died suddenly in 1991 when he fell from his yacht in the Canary Islands, and was later found to be in serious debt and have committed pension fraud. Following her father's death and the media storm that ensued, his youngest daughter moved to New York and was soon socialising in influential political circles. It was around the same time that she was first introduced to Epstein.

During their relationship in the 1990s and early 2000s, Maxwell is accused of having helped Epstein to recruit, traffic and abuse underage girls at several of his properties around the United States and abroad. Epstein died in 2019 while in jail awaiting trial on multiple federal sex trafficking charges.

Having evaded authorities for almost a year after Epstein's death, Maxwell was arrested in July 2020, when she was found in her New Hampshire mansion by the FBI.

What is she on trial for?

Ghislaine Maxwell looks over her shoulder to the courtroom audience Credit: Court sketch by Elizabeth Williams/AP

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?

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 Clinton, Donald Trump, Bill 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.

Jeffrey Epstein in court in 2008 Credit: Uma Sanghvi/Palm Beach Post via AP, File

The defence meanwhile are planning to call a number of prominent expert witnesses, including 'false-memory' expert Professor Elizabeth Loftus, who testified for Harvey Weinstein.

Loftus will argue that intense coverage of the case for many years may have altered the alleged victims’ perceptions of events.

Will the Prince Andrew allegations be addressed?

Ghislaine Maxwell and the Duke of York, seen leaving a society wedding in 2000 Credit: Chris Ison/PA

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

The judge has said additional witnesses to the four minor victims may be called by the prosecution, but Giuffre’s legal team has confirmed she will not be in attendance.

How long will the trial last?

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