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image captionGhislaine Maxwell is due to go on trial in 2021
US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein’s former girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell said she never witnessed “inappropriate underage activities” by him, according to transcripts of a 2016 deposition.
The testimony was made in a now-settled civil defamation lawsuit brought by one of the late financier’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre.
Ms Maxwell had long fought to keep the testimony secret.
She will go on trial in a criminal case next year and has pleaded not guilty.
She is accused of helping Epstein traffic and sexually abuse underage girls and of perjury for denying involvement in such a scheme when she gave her deposition under oath.
The 58-year-old has been in custody since her arrest in July. If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to 35 years in prison.
What does the deposition say?
Ms Giuffre (née Roberts) sued Ms Maxwell in 2015 after the British socialite said she was a liar.
Transcripts of the 2016 deposition from the now-settled case were released on Thursday under the orders of US District Judge Loretta Preska.
Ms Maxwell’s lawyers had argued that releasing the documents would violate her constitutional right against self-incrimination and could impede her right to a fair trial next year. They said she had believed the deposition would remain confidential.
But appeals judges ruled on Monday that Judge Preska had rightly determined that the public had a right to access the documents, and said arguments by Ms Maxwell’s lawyers were “meritless”.
In the deposition, which spans more than 400 pages, Ms Maxwell repeatedly denies and dismisses numerous allegations, and insists she never saw the financier have sex with anybody.
“I never saw any inappropriate underage activities with Jeffrey ever,” she said.
Asked if she was aware of any non-consensual sexual acts between Epstein and masseuses, she replied: “All the time that I have been in the house I have never seen, heard, nor witnessed, nor have [had] reported to me that any activities took place, that people were in distress, either reported to me by the staff or anyone else.”
She also said she never hired anyone under the age of 18 to work in Epstein’s homes and never participated in any sexual activities with them.
Asked whether she believed that Epstein had sexually abused minors, she said: “I can only testify to what I know. I know that Virginia is a liar”.
Ms Maxwell also called Ms Giuffre an “awful fantasist”.
Ms Giuffre alleges that Ms Maxwell recruited her as a masseuse to the financier while she was a minor. She says Epstein kept her as a “sex slave” with Ms Maxwell’s assistance.
Sigrid McCawley, a lawyer for Ms Giuffre, said the unsealing of the deposition was “a long time coming and a welcome step towards revealing the evidence of the scope and scale of the Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking ring.”
Who is Ghislaine Maxwell?
Ms Maxwell is the daughter of the late disgraced UK newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell, his ninth and youngest child.
Born on Christmas Day in 1961 outside Paris, Ms Maxwell is Oxford-educated and is said to speak several languages,
A well-connected socialite, she is said to have introduced Epstein to many of her wealthy and powerful friends, including Bill Clinton and Prince Andrew.
Friends said that although Ms Maxwell and Epstein’s romantic relationship lasted only a few years, she continued to work with him long afterward, the Washington Post reports.
“She had an upbringing and taste and knew how to run a house and a boat and how to entertain,” an acquaintance was quoted by the UK’s Daily Telegraph as saying. “You can’t buy that. You can’t buy access, either.”
In a Vanity Fair profile published in 2003, Epstein said Ms Maxwell was not a paid employee, but rather his “best friend”.
In court documents, former employees at the Epstein mansion in Palm Beach describe her as the house manager, who oversaw the staff, handled finances and served as social coordinator, the Post reports.
What are the charges she faces?
Prosecutors allege that between 1994 and 1997, Ms Maxwell helped Epstein groom girls as young as 14. They have said that they expect “one or more victims” to testify.
Four of the charges Ms Maxwell faces relate to the years 1994-97 when she was, according to the indictment, among Epstein’s closest associates and also in an “intimate relationship” with him. The other two charges are allegations of perjury in 2016.
The indictment says Ms Maxwell “assisted, facilitated, and contributed to Epstein’s abuse of minor girls by, among other things, helping Epstein to recruit, groom and ultimately abuse victims known to Maxwell and Epstein to be under the age of 18”.
What about Epstein?
Epstein, 66, was a New York financier known for socialising with celebrities and politicians. In 2002, Donald Trump – then a property tycoon – called Epstein a “terrific guy”.
In 2005, following a complaint from the parents of a 14-year-old girl in Florida, Epstein was convicted for soliciting prostitution from a minor, for which he was registered as a sex offender.
He avoided federal charges – which could have carried a life sentence – and instead received an 18-month prison sentence, during which he was able to go to work. He was released on probation after 13 months.
But following allegations from former victims, he was arrested again in 2019 and accused of sex trafficking of underage girls.
He was found dead in a New York prison cell on 10 August as he awaited trial. The death was ruled a suicide by hanging.
Who is Virginia Giuffre?
Ms Giuffre has been one of Epstein’s most prominent accusers. She alleges that she was forced into sex with the financier and his friends.
She says she was trafficked to London by Epstein when she was aged 17 to have sex with Prince Andrew.
“I knew I had to keep him [Prince Andrew] happy, because it’s what Jeffrey and Ghislaine would expect from me,” she told the BBC.
The prince has “categorically” denied any sexual contact with Ms Giuffre. In an interview with BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis last year, he said he didn’t recall meeting her.
Prince Andrew stepped back from royal duties last November, saying the Epstein scandal had become a “major disruption” to the Royal Family.