NEW YORK (AFP) - British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested in the United States on Thursday (July 2) and charged with sex trafficking minors for her former boyfriend the disgraced late financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Maxwell, whose whereabouts had been unknown following Epstein's suicide while awaiting trial last summer, faces six counts relating to his sex crimes.
FBI agents detained the daughter of late newspaper baron Robert Maxwell "without incident" in Bradford, New Hampshire at 8.30am (9.30pm Singapore time), Kristen Setera, spokeswoman for the agency's Boston office, told AFP.
She is due to appear in court in New Hampshire later in the day.
A spokesman for the Southern District of New York, which is investigating whether Epstein had any accomplices, said she had been charged "for her role in the sexual exploitation and abuse of multiple minor girls by Jeffrey Epstein."
A copy of the indictment filed in a New York court showed the charges include conspiracy to entice minors to travel in order to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation of minors for criminal sexual activity and perjury.
Prosecutors allege that Maxwell helped Epstein groom girls as young as 14 between 1994 and 1997.
It says she would befriend them by taking them shopping or to the cinema. After building a rapport, she would coax them into giving Epstein nude massages during which they were sexually abused.
"In some instances, Maxwell was present for and participated in the sexual abuse of minor victims," the indictment says.
She could face life in prison if found guilty.
Epstein, 66, was arrested in July 2019. He hanged himself in Manhattan's Metropolitan Correctional Centre on Aug 10 last year while awaiting trial on charges of trafficking minors for sex. He had pleaded not guilty.
Several of his accusers have said the 58-year-old Maxwell maintained a network of girls to perform sexual favours for Epstein, a registered sex offender who hobnobbed with the rich and famous.
The allegations sparked a tabloid frenzy to try to track her down, amid rumors that she had fled to Israel or France.
The English socialite is a long-time friend of Prince Andrew and is known to have introduced the British royal to Epstein, with the two becoming friends.
US prosecutors want to speak to the prince about his relationship with Epstein but have accused him of being uncooperative. He denies this.
Andrew, 60, also vehemently denies claims he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured by Epstein.
Virginia Giuffre alleges she was trafficked for sex with friends of Epstein. She says she had sex with the prince at the central London home of Maxwell in 2001.
Queen Elizabeth II's second son was forced to step back from frontline royal duties after he faced outrage over an interview with the BBC late last year in which he defended his friendship with Epstein.
Epstein was a multi-millionaire hedge fund manager who befriended countless celebrities over the years, including US President Donald Trump.
Epstein was charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and another of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.
He was facing up to 45 years in jail if found guilty.
Determined to obtain justice despite his death, dozens of women who say they were abused by Epstein have sued his estate.
In March, Maxwell also launched a suit against his estate seeking compensation for legal fees and security costs incurred by her association with Epstein.
In it, she said she had "had no involvement in or knowledge of Epstein's alleged misconduct."
Epstein was convicted in Florida in 2008 of paying young girls for massages but served just 13 months in jail under a secret plea deal struck with the then state prosecutor.
While his death was ruled a suicide, it has also fueled conspiracy theories, mostly speculating he was murdered to stop him revealing compromising information about wealthy acquaintances.