British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell has been charged in the United States with facilitating Jeffrey Epstein's alleged exploitation and sexual abuse of underage girls, authorities have said.
The acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, said the 58-year-old had played a "critical role" in befriending and grooming the victims - and in some cases took part in the abuse herself.
Detailing the allegations, Strauss said Epstein's associate had "enticed minor girls" as young as 14 and had normalised the abuse by using her presence to put them at ease.
She added that Maxwell would discuss sexual topics with the victims, undress in front of them or be present while the abuse was taking place.
Incidents were said to have initially begun as "sexualised massages" in which the victim would be partially or fully nude, and would then transpire into sexual acts that Strauss said Maxwell sometimes participated in.
According to the indictment, the abuse took place in a variety of places including Epstien's homes in New York, Florida and Santa Fe, Mexico.
They are also believed to have taken place in Maxwell's residence in London.
The charges on Thursday were said to be related to incidents between 1994 and 1997 as a "prequel" to a case against the disgraced financier in which he was charged with sexually abusing girls between 2002 and 2005.
It comes after Maxwell, who lived with Epstein for years during his life, was arrested earlier in the day at a residence in New Hampshire.
She has previously denied any wrongdoing in relation to Epstein, who killed himself in a prison cell last year while awaiting trial for sex-trafficking charges.
One of the most high-profile claims to have since surfaced against the socialite has come from Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who said Maxwell had arranged for her to have sex with Prince Andrew in London while she was still a teenager.
To strengthen this claim, Giuffre provided a photo of herself, Maxwell and Andrew, that she says was taken at a townhouse in the British capital at the time of the arrangement.
The prince has denied these claims.
Another alleged Epstein victim, Sarah Ransome, described Maxwell in her lawsuit against the financier as the "highest-ranking employee" in his alleged sex-trafficking ring.
According to the suit, she is said to have overseen and trained people to recruit girls, while developing plans and helping to hide the operation from police.
At a brief hearing on Thursday, a magistrate judge ordered Maxwell to remain in custody while she is transferred to New York for a detention hearing there.