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Ghislaine Maxwell faces 80 years in jail over trafficking of girls charges

© APCourtroom sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell during jury selection in New York last week.
Courtroom sketch of Ghislaine Maxwell during jury selection in New York last week.

With her new bob haircut and black turtleneck, Ghislaine Maxwell cut a very different figure as she appeared for a hearing in New York courtroom 518 last week.

Gone was the prison-issue blue top and pants and gone were her graying roots, which she appears to have dyed black herself.

With just over a week until she goes on trial for recruiting and trafficking underage girls for Jeffrey Epstein, Maxwell appears to have a newfound confidence.

But the reality of the charges against 59-year-old daughter of late newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell remains as severe as ever.

No makeover can cover up the fact she faces 80 years in jail if found guilty on all eight counts she has been accused of.

Quite how a socialite who once counted Prince Andrew, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump among her friends ended up as Inmate No. 02879-509 in the federal prison system is a story that will be played out during the six-week trial.

Epstein, a paedophile and billionaire financier who owned homes in New York, New Mexico and a private island in the Caribbean, was arrested in 2019 on sex trafficking charges but hanged himself before trial.

Prosecutors turned their attention to Maxwell and in July last year she was arrested at her £720,000 home in a rural part of New Hampshire.

Maxwell claims that she has been made a “substitute” for Epstein and that prosecutors only pursued her when their No.1 target committed suicide. Prosecutors claim that Maxwell, who briefly dated Epstein, was his chief recruiter of girls as young as 14 who she groomed the victims between 1994 and at least 2001.

According to the indictment, she would arrange for them to take part in sexualised massages with Epstein, knowing they were going to be raped and sexually assaulted.

Maxwell has denied all the allegations and opening statements in her trial are due to take place on November 29.

The case has captivated the US and the UK, given that one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Roberts, claims that she was loaned out to the Duke of York for sex when she was 17, allegations he strongly denies.

The mixture of power, sex, scandal and celebrities means that there will intense interest from all over the world for the duration of the trial.

Last week in courtroom 518 judge Alison Nathan has been going through the process known as Voir Dire, or questioning prospective jurors who will make up the panel of 12 and six alternates who will decide Maxwell’s fate.

Both sides will present their opening arguments on November 29, a week tomorrow, followed by the first of the four women whose claims make up the core of the case.

Among them is Annie Farmer, who claims she was lured to Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico in 1996 when she was 16 and sexually assaulted by Epstein and Maxwell.

Minor Victim 1, who has not been identified, alleges she was recruited at the age of 13 and introduced to Trump by Epstein when she was 14.

Minor Victim 3 is understood to be British and claims she was recruited in London before being repeatedly abused.

© AP
Ghislaine Maxwell, left, sits with her lead defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim

The fourth accuser has not been identified. She claims she was abused from the age of 14.

Court filings have indicated there will be evidence from two other women who claim they were abused while they were underage, and multiple supporting witnesses backing them up.

With such a deluge of accusers, Maxwell’s options for defending herself are limited and it appears she seems to be turning to an unlikely source for inspiration – Harvey Weinstein.

Weinstein was jailed for 23 years in 2019 for rape and sexual assault, yet Maxwell is taking a page from his strategy book.

She is calling the same defence expert that Weinstein did, cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who will talk about how victims can create false memories after undergoing trauma like sexual assault.

Court documents suggest that Maxwell wants to dig up dirt on her alleged victims and argue that it was all consensual, just as Weinstein did.

And it emerged this week that Maxwell has even hired the same jury consultant as Weinstein to try and get the most favourable panel of 12 people.

Daniel Bibb, a New York-based defence attorney with 40 years of experience, said that shaming the victims was “extremely risky”.

The danger is that you may reduce a witness to tears as happened during a cross examination of one accuser in the Weinstein case.

Maxwell stands behind Prince Andrew, who has his arm round the waist of Virginia Roberts in London in 2001

Bibb said: “A witness undergoing a withering cross examination can engender a lot of sympathy from a jury. You might see it because it may be the only strategy they have but I really don’t see it as an effective strategy.”

He said that the only possible route he could see for Maxwell was distancing herself from Epstein.

He said: “She’s got to double down on blaming Epstein but then the jurors are going to ask how did she not know given they were so close for so long.

“If she takes the tack of trying to paint all these women as liars I don’t think it will go very far.

“It would seem to me you have to blame Epstein and divorce yourself from his actions.

“I don’t think trying to say this was all voluntary and trying to impeach these women, it won’t fly, even to the most sceptical of jurors.”

It won’t just be Maxwell who is sweating the outcome of the trial: the Duke of York will be taking a keen interest too.

Pre-trial motions have indicated prosecutors plan to include emails between Maxwell and “influential” men she was friends with offering to set them up on dates with women.

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The emails show that Maxwell used women as a form of “social currency” and that she was “eager to please” the individuals in question, it is claimed.

Then there is the question of that infamous photo from 2001 of Prince Andrew with his arm round the waist of Ms Roberts.

Later that night Roberts claims she was forced to have sex with the Duke, one of three times they were allegedly intimate.

As uncomfortable as it may be for Andrew, prosecutors are likely to zero in on another detail in the photo that bolsters their case.

In the background, grinning like a Cheshire cat at the scene in front of her, is somebody they hope to see locked up for the rest of her life, Ghislaine Maxwell.