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Jeffrey Epstein: Trial of former lover Ghislaine Maxwell begins in New York

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By Euronews  with AFP, AP
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Ghislaine Maxwell attends a press conference on the Issue of Oceans in Sustainable Development Goals, at United Nations headquarters, June 25, 2013.
Ghislaine Maxwell attends a press conference on the Issue of Oceans in Sustainable Development Goals, at United Nations headquarters, June 25, 2013.   -   Copyright  Rick Bajornas / United Nations Photo / AP

The much-anticipated trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite charged with grooming underage girls for disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, begins today in New York.

Two years after Epstein's death, a jury was selected Monday to determine a central question in the long-running sex trafficking case: was his longtime companion an accomplice?

The 59-year-old faces a life sentence if convicted of sex trafficking.

The charges against her stem from the allegations of four women who say she and the multi-million-dollar money manager victimised them as teens from 1994 to 2004.

Prosecutors say Maxwell befriended girls with shopping and movie theater trips, later coaxing them into giving Epstein nude massages at his various residences, during which he would engage in sex acts before giving them money.

US government attorneys say Maxwell sometimes participated in the abuse, at her London home and at Epstein's properties in New Mexico, Manhattan, and Palm Beach, Florida.

The French-born heiress has pleaded not guilty to all six counts. She has also been charged with two counts of perjury, which are due to be tried after her sex crimes trial.

Epstein died aged 66 in a Manhattan jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on child sex trafficking charges, in what New York's official coroner ruled a suicide.

Following his death, prosecutors vowed to pursue co-conspirators, resulting in Maxwell's arrest in July 2020.

She has since been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn under rigorous surveillance.

The alleged victims are expected to testify that Maxwell operated a ring of girls and young women who were taken across state lines to provide sex acts and sexualised massages for Epstein.

The defense argues that Maxwell is being tried only because Epstein escaped justice.

They have indicated they will attack the accusers' credibility by referencing alleged previous substance abuse.

The proceedings against Maxwell come after convictions of Weinstein and the singer R. Kelly, cases that also saw the defense rely – ultimately in vain – on challenges of credibility.

The holder of multiple passports, Maxwell has been denied bail six times, with judges deeming her a "flight risk". She is considered unlikely to testify.

Twelve jurors and six alternates will hear Maxwell's case, starting with opening statements expected later in the day. They were picked from a pool of 40 to 60 potential jurors who made it through initial questioning.

The trial, taking place in the Thurgood Marshall US courthouse in lower Manhattan, is expected to continue into mid-January.