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‘She never understood right and wrong’: the fall of Ghislaine Maxwell

In late June, Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced by a New York courthouse to 20 years in prison for conspiring over a decade with financier Jeffrey Epstein to sexually exploit and abuse underage girls. Epstein, a convicted sex offender who was captured by federal authorities in July 2019 on counts, killed himself in a New York jail just one month after his arrest. A former British socialite, Maxwell stood accused of , molesting and trafficking young women for him in New York, New Mexico, Florida and the US Virgin Islands.

Last December, John Sweeney attended Maxwell’s court proceedings in Manhattan. “Welcome to the cocktail party from hell, or to give the proceedings their proper name, the trial of the United States of America v Ghislaine Maxwell,” the British journalist writes in the final chapter of Hunting Ghislaine. Based on the podcast series with the same title, the concludes by looking at the evidence in the 60-year-old’s trial.

Sweeney, an award-winning reporter, broadcaster, and author, who has written 12 books, including Killer in the Kremlin and North Korea Undercover, notes how Maxwell’s team of lawyers argued that their client was a victim of Epstein. The defence also suggested that the victims in the witness box were essentially gold-diggers. Sweeney writes how Maxwell had put $7m aside for her legal fees, from a sum of $30m she had received from Epstein, her former lover, before he died.

Sweeney also examines the testimonies brought before the court from those key witnesses. One was granted anonymity and came forward under the name “Jane”. She first met Maxwell and Epstein in 1994 at a summer camp in Michigan. A month after that introduction, Epstein’s office contacted her. Epstein and Maxwell later took the vulnerable teenager to Victoria’s Secret to buy her underwear and boasted how they were friends with Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Jane says Maxwell and Epstein groomed her, then sexually abused her for several years.

Jane told the court how the sexual abuse usually occurred in the massage room in Epstein’s mansion in Palm Beach, Florida. Other women participated in the sexual activity. Most were older than Jane, but she was 14 when it started, she told the jury. Maxwell has always denied knowledge of Epstein’s paedophilia, but Sweeney calls the scale of the operation she took part in to serve Epstein’s perverse sexual desires as akin “to running a factory” and “like a child sex cult”.

The journalist believes Maxwell inherited her arrogance and sense of entitlement from her father, Robert Maxwell, the corrupt media magnate who died falling from a yacht near the Canary Islands in November 1991 in suspicious circumstances. Ghislaine Maxwell left the UK shortly afterwards and went to New York to woo Epstein. “She lost everything when the first monster in her life died,” says Sweeney. “Then she got everything back: private jets, swish parties, powerful friends. All she had to do was feed the second monster with fresh children.”

Sweeney describes Ghislaine Maxwell “as a sociopath who was monstrously and psychologically abused by her father”. He says her traumatic childhood meant she “never developed a proper understanding of right and wrong”. His book also provides a detailed profile of Robert Maxwell.

The self-made billionaire was born into an impoverished family in Czechoslovakia in 1923. He became an academic publisher, a Labour MP and owner of the Daily Mirror. The final years of his life were plagued by financial trouble. He defaulted on $2bn worth of loans, and raided millions of pounds from his company’s retirement fund.

“This was a man who stole from pensioners and took pride in pissing off the roof of his helicopter pad in the heart of London, who evacuated his bowels within earshot of reporters, and who used to wipe his bottom with cloth towels and let the maids pick them up,” Sweeney says.

Sweeney’s book also probes into the allegations that have surfaced with several rich and powerful individuals who are alleged to have had knowledge of, or participated in, Epstein’s international sex-trafficking operation.

“As [Maxwell] faced life and death in jail, [were the] the alpha males in the dark fairy tale walking ?” he writes.

Sweeney then cites the name of Virginia Giuffre. Now in her mid-30s, Giuffre is an advocate for sex- trafficking victims and claims Ghislaine Maxwell groomed her when she was still a teenager to be a sex slave for Maxwell, Epstein, Prince Andrew and other prominent men — including Epstein’s lawyer, Alan Dershowitz.

Earlier this month, however, The New York Times reported that Giuffre, who settled a defamation lawsuit against Dershowitz, said that she might have “made a mistake” in accusing the famous lawyer and former law professor at Harvard University. Sweeney believes Giuffre is “a poor witness and has given sworn testimony in the past where she has said things specifically, which are provably untrue”.

“Now does that not necessarily mean Giuffre is lying,” he says. “But it’s one of the reasons, I believe, the FBI did not call Giuffre as a witness in the case of Ghislaine Maxwell.” Sweeney also notes that Prince Andrew is alleged to have had sex with Giuffre. In a sworn affidavit, Giuffre said the first time she had sex with the Duke of York was in London, when she was 17. “The legal age for having sex in Britain at the time was 16, so no crime,” says Sweeney. He also mentions that there were no laws against sex trafficking in Britain in 2001, when the alleged sexual act was said to have taken place. “You can’t try people for crimes before they are made law. Prince Andrew did, however, make a civil payment to Virginia Giuffre earlier this year and that looks extremely bad for him.”

One question remains: in the wake of Ghislaine Maxwell’s conviction, why aren’t further investigations being carried out by American , or , to prosecute other men who are said to be connected to Epstein’s international sex-trafficking ring? “The answer, I think, is because these men have committed no crime,” says Sweeney.

“Ghislaine Maxwell has never offered anybody else up [in this story] because as far as the authorities can tell, these other men did not have sex with [minors].”

Epstein befriended many powerful individuals, including two former US presidents, Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. Sweeney notes how the flight logs of Epstein’s Boeing, nicknamed the Lolita Express, show how Maxwell shared journeys with very young women. The book also recalls how the pilot of Epstein’s jet, Larry Visoski, was the first witness in the case for the prosecution at Maxwell’s trial. The pilot recalled meeting several high-profile passengers — including Clinton and Trump — but said he never saw any sexual abuse of minors, or any possible signs of it whatsoever.

“My working hypothesis is as follows,” Sweeney says. “Epstein provided discreet locations, in his various properties, where these men could shag beautiful young women, who were in their early 20s, but not teenagers.

“And [if true], it meant that these men owed Epstein some kind of debt, but it wasn’t criminality. Epstein’s perversion is peculiar and was not widely shared by [the others]. I may be wrong about that. But all I am doing is looking at the evidence and setting it out.”

‘Hunting Ghislaine’ by John Sweeney, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now

 

EYES ON TRAFFICKING

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original location.

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PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.

 

EYES ON TRAFFICKING

This “Eyes on Trafficking” story is reprinted from its original online location.

ABOUT PBJ LEARNING

PBJ Learning is a leading provider of online human trafficking training, focusing on awareness and prevention education. Their interactive Human Trafficking Essentials online course is used worldwide to educate professionals and individuals how to recognize human trafficking and how to respond to potential victims. Learn on any web browser (even your mobile phone) at any time.

More stories like this can be found in your PBJ Learning Knowledge Vault.