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Can 20 years jail for sex offender and Epstein friend Ghislaine Maxwell unmask the mighty?

Maxwell's conviction 6 months ago got worldwide attention because of her relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, their high-profile clients and the vocal survivors of abuse.

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New Delhi: Former British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell will spend 20 years behind bars for colluding with her former boyfriend and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in the constant abuse and trafficking of under-aged girls.

Though the case has come to an end, questions remain whether the system can ever expose the all-powerful offenders – in this case, a who’s who of international celebrities.

On Tuesday, Ghislaine Maxwell was sentenced to 20 years in prison, six months after having been found guilty on five counts out of six in a high-profile case. She was held guilty of sex trafficking of a minor, transporting a minor with the intent to commit sexual activity, two conspiracy counts related to this transportation, and perjury in relation to a prior testimony in 2016.

Prosecutors said Maxwell schemed for years with her former boyfriend and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who committed suicide in his jail cell three years ago.

For those who felt Maxwell’s incarceration somewhat made up for Epstein’s, Judge Alison Nathan said Tuesday: “Miss Maxwell is not punished in place of Epstein. Miss Maxwell is being punished for the role that she played.”

The story of Maxwell’s conviction has remained the subject of worldwide scrutiny, debate and even some conspiracy theories for years. The reason? Her years of association with Epstein; the numerous powerful figures the duo were allegedly close to; and the many victims of sexual abuse and trafficking.

Jeffrey Epstein’s case

A financier, broker and socialite, Jeffrey Epstein was investigated by US federal authorities since the 2000s — first over allegedly sexually abusing his daughter and later being convicted in 2008 for soliciting sexual activity from an underage prostitute.

However, instead of serving substantial prison time, Epstein’s conviction only lasted 13 months with a work release as he received a non-prosecution agreement, or a plea deal, from Florida-based federal prosecutor Alex Acosta. The plea deal mandated Epstein to register as a sex offender, and compensate the victims he was alleged to have sexually abused.

Acosta has since served as Secretary of Labour under the Trump administration from 2017 to 2019. According to the Chicago Tribune in November 2020, a Justice Department report labelled Epstein’s plea deal as “poor judgement” on the part of Acosta.

While this truncated conviction took place largely behind closed doors at the time, Epstein was again arrested in July 2019 on charges of sex-trafficking minors in Florida and New York. Only a month into his time in custody as he was awaiting trial, Epstein was found dead in his New York jail cell.

Epstein and Maxwell’s celebrity clientele

The story doesn’t end there. Apart from their individual crimes, Epstein and Maxwell gained global notoriety for maintaining an extensive and high-profile clientele that includes former Presidents Donald Trump and Bill Clinton, UK royal family member Prince Andrew and several Hollywood celebrities.

Epstein and Maxwell have been alleged to have solicited underage girls to engage in sexual acts with several of these figures at one of Epstein’s residences or aboard his private jet. They also maintained logs and records of all their clients.

Since August 2019, media coverage of the circumstances around Epstein’s death revealed possible lapses in the jail’s security standards that night. Reports also mentioned the powerful figures Epstein and Maxwell personally knew.

As a result, the general public and social media quickly began popularising conspiracy theories about the case, particularly with the phrase “Epstein didn’t kill himself” spreading like wildfire.

Following Epstein’s death, the justice system’s focus shifted to his closest associate and aide in these crimes — Ghislaine Maxwell — culminating in Maxwell’s sentencing.

“I empathize deeply with all of the victims in this case. I also acknowledge that I have been convicted of helping Jeffrey Epstein commit these crimes… I know that my association with Epstein and this case will forever and permanently stain me,” The Guardian quoted Maxwell as saying on her sentencing.

Maxwell’s response was deemed as an insufficient attempt at an apology by several of her and Epstein’s victims due to the magnitude of her actions.

Uncertainty and questions still remain over the truth about some of Epstein and Maxwell’s clients.

The fall of Prince Andrew

In 2001, Epstein and Maxwell were alleged to have trafficked Virginia Guiffre to Prince Andrew.

Guiffre was 17 at the time and later described her experience in detail, accusing Prince Andrew of sexual assault. She labelled Maxwell an overseer and manager of Epstein’s “sex trafficking network”, and urged people to support her fight for justice.

Prince Andrew denied the allegations in a televised interview but stepped away from public duty due to widespread criticism of his conduct during the interview.

In January 2022, a few weeks after Maxwell’s conviction, a civil lawsuit filed by Guiffre against Prince Andrew was allowed to proceed in the US after a New York district court judge denied his lawyer’s motion to have the case dismissed.

The Queen subsequently “stripped” Prince Andrew of his honorary military titles, and he settled the case out of court a month later. As part of the settlement, he reportedly made a “substantial donation” to Guiffre’s charity, set up in 2021 to support victims of sexual abuse and violence.

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