Following a high-profile trial in New York, Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty of recruiting and trafficking young girls to be sexually abused by the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein. For many, the jury’s decision was the culmination of a decades-long battle for justice, and demonstrated that nobody – no matter how rich or powerful – is above the law. Unsurprisingly, many of Epstein’s former associates, who are rumoured to stretch across powerful positions in finance, the media and public life, might not be so relieved.
Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested in July 2020 at her mansion in New Hampshire. She now faces life sentence behind bars having been found guilty on five out of six counts she faced. These are, the BBC reports, sex trafficking of a minor, transporting a minor with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors, and conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts. She was found not guilty of one count, enticement of a minor to travel to engage in illegal sex acts.
The verdict was reached after five full days of deliberation by a 12-person jury in New York, following a month-long trial. “I hope that this verdict brings solace to all who need it and demonstrates that no one is above the law,” said Annie Farmer, one of the four women who testified against Maxwell and described being abused by Epstein between 1994 and 2004.
Maxwell’s defence claims that she is being used as a scapegoat for Epstein’s crimes following his suicide. “Epstein’s death left a gaping hole in the pursuit of justice for many of these women,” her lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, said. “She’s filling that hole, and filling that empty chair.” Shortly after the verdict, her legal team said they were working on an appeal. “We have already started working on the appeal, and we are confident that she will be vindicated,” Sternheim said outside of the courthouse.
The youngest, and favourite, child of late media tycoon Robert Maxwell, Ghislaine grew up in an incredibly wealthy household, obtained a degree from the University of Oxford, and was a member of high society from a young age. She was the archetype of a British “socialite.” However, her status was seriously endangered when her father was found guilty on fraud charges and subsequently fell off his yacht, Lady Ghislaine.
Maxwell started dating Epstein after the death of her father in the early 1990s. Although their romantic involvement didn’t last long, Maxwell remained Epstein’s closest confidant. The two of them developed a mutually beneficial relationship. Epstein’s wealth sufficed to provide Maxwell with the lavish lifestyle she had become accustomed to. In return, she provided him access to her extensive social network. The long list of powerful people affiliated with Epstein include, former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, billionaires Leslie Wexner and Leon Black, and attorney Alan Dershowitz. Perhaps the most surprising member of this group is Bill Gates, whose ties to Epstein were part of the reason his ex-wife, Melinda Gates, filed for divorce last year. While none of these figures have been connected with Epstein and Maxwell’s crimes, for many this raises awkward questions about the behaviour and lifestyle of the world’s richest, most powerful figures.
The most intriguing element of the Epstein mystery is that the precise nature of his connection to some of the most influential people in the world remains largely unknown. Before his imprisonment and suicide, Epstein admitted to a New York Times journalist that he “had dirt” on powerful people, referring to their sexual proclivities and recreational drug use. Prior to his 2019 prosecution, Epstein pleaded guilty to charges of procuring a child for prostitution in 2008 and served 13 months in custody. His notoriety, however, didn’t scare his affiliates, but made them confide in him. This is because they felt innocuous compared to him, Epstein thought.
Indeed, authorities have found several cameras placed in the bathrooms and bedroom at Epstein’s Upper East side mansion in Manhattan and Palm Beach residence in Florida. Epstein is said to have organised parties at all of these venues, trafficking underage girls to his friends. Most notoriously, he used to fly out his friends on the Lolita Express to Little Saint James, his private island in the US Virgin Islands.
What actually happened on these occasions remains unknown as of right now, as Epstein carried most of his secrets with him to the grave. Nevertheless, the Maxwell verdict might shed light on some so far untold stories. In so doing, this verdict could pave the way to a wide-ranging examination of the dubious – and potentially illegal – activities of powerful figures across politics, finance, the media and other professions. For many, this might raise more profound questions about the way our societies and industries are organised, and the power dynamics that are at play within these.
The Guardian writes that Maxwell has voiced concerns about her treatment whilst in jail. “[She] has been subject to physical and emotional abuse by the correction officers, poor and unsanitary living conditions, insufficient nutrition, difficulties reviewing the millions of legal discovery documents in the case against her, and sleep deprivation,” her lawyer said. For a person who lived her life under luxurious circumstances, this doesn’t sound appealing. Facing the prospect of spending the rest of her life behind bars, there might come a point where she will use her knowledge on other’s wrongdoing as a bargaining chip to improve her condition. This poses the question: will Ghislaine Maxwell be the biggest disruptor of 2022?
In the UK, we are currently seeing this play out with regards to Prince Andrew. The Duke of York was an affiliate of Epstein, and one of the few people who were directly accused of wrongdoing. In his now infamous interview with the BBC, Prince Andrew defended himself from allegations that he had a close relationship with Epstein by saying he was merely a friend of his confidant, Maxwell – a close friend that is now a convicted sex-trafficker. Virginia Giuffre is a prominent and vocal accuser of Epstein and Maxwell, and she claims that she was forced to have sex with Prince Andrew on three occasions. While the Duke of York denies any wrongdoing, his affiliation with Epstein has already seen his role in the Royal Family diminished. Could Prince Andrew become just the first powerful person to be exposed by the Epstein/Maxwell affair?
Other notable Epstein-related incidents include the quick departure of former CEO Jes Staley from Barclays. This follows an investigation into his relationship with the late paedophile. The two reportedly exchanged more than 1,200 emails over a four-year period. Similarly, co-founder of Apollo Management Leon Black has also left his executive position after his ties to Epstein were revealed. Only being associated with Epstein has caused the downfall of many people already. The question is, will Ghislaine Maxwell expose more?
Epstein and Maxwell operated within powerful social networks. The latter was a professional socialite who lived and breathed within the Establishment, making her name by befriending and smooth-talking the world’s elite. The number of figures within our most important industries who are likely to be associated with them is enormous. Will these associations reveal serious wrongdoing? How will legal systems, and whole societies, react? Could this blow up into a wider scandal that, like the global financial crisis, shatters people’s trust in the systems that govern their lives?
While much remains unclear for now, Ghislaine Maxwell could well prove to be the biggest disruptor of 2022.
Author: Benjamin Jenei
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