PARIS • French prosecutors said they had opened an inquiry into the suspected rape and sexual abuse of minors linked to the scandal surrounding disgraced US multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
The move came after growing calls for French investigators to look into allegations of abuse at Epstein's sumptuous apartment near the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
"The investigations... will focus on potential crimes against French victims committed on national territory and abroad, and on perpetrators who are French citizens," Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said in a statement last Friday.
The potential charges could include the rape and sexual assault of minors aged 15 and over, the prosecutors said. It will also investigate claims Epstein and others participated for years in a vast child sex trafficking ring.
The move came after US investigators turned up links in France in their probe into the disgraced financier, who was found hanged in his New York jail cell on Aug 10 while awaiting trial on new sex trafficking charges.
He had been arrested five weeks earlier on his return to the United States after a trip to Paris.
Last week, Innocence In Danger, a French charity working to protect children against sexual violence, said it had collected 10 witness statements of alleged sexual crimes involving minors that took place in France.
The testimonies were from victims and those who had witnessed alleged abuse, "probably at the hands of French people", the NGO's head Homayra Sellier said.
Investigators are likely to be asking questions about a formerly powerful French modelling tycoon in his 70s named Jean-Luc Brunel, a close friend of Epstein.
Mr Brunel has vehemently denied involvement, "directly or indirectly", in Epstein's crimes.