Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and longtime associate of the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested in New Hampshire, US, on Thursday on charges of luring underage girls so that Epstein could sexually abuse them.
The arrest of the British socialite adds another twist in the mystery of Epstein, whose high-flying lifestyle included private Caribbean islands and powerful connections that his victims say allowed him to abuse minors with impunity.
Maxwell, 58, was arrested in Bradford, New Hampshire.
She is charged with four counts related to procuring and transporting minors for illegal sex acts and two counts of perjury, according to the indictment by federal prosecutors in New York.
Epstein was awaiting trial on federal charges of trafficking minors when he was found hanged in an apparent suicide while in a New York City jail in August.
Previously, he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor in a 2008 deal with prosecutors that was widely criticised as too lenient.
The indictment accuses Maxwell of luring the girls by asking them about their lives, schools and families and taking them shopping or to movies.
After Maxwell won the girls' trust, the indictment alleges, she would try to “normalise sexual abuse” by discussing sexual topics or by undressing in front of them or being present when they were undressed.
The indictment alleges that Maxwell was well aware of Epstein's preference for minor girls and that he intended to sexually abuse them.
Epstein's alleged abuse included touching their genitals, placing sex toys on their genitals and having the girls touch Epstein while he masturbated.
Maxwell also encouraged the young girls to massage Epstein, and in some cases, the victims were partially or fully nude during the massages, according to the indictment.
“For years, I feared Epstein and his ring,” Jennifer Araoz, who has accused Maxwell of trafficking her for Epstein, said in a statement.
“Today, my fellow Epstein survivors and I are able to take a breath of relief, as Maxwell's arrest means some justice for survivors can exist.”
Maxwell was expected to appear in federal court in New Hampshire on Thursday to discuss her bail or continued detention, according to a law enforcement official.
A lawyer who represented Maxwell in civil litigation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Maxwell, the daughter of late British media magnate Robert Maxwell, has kept a low profile since the death of Epstein.
Maxwell was an ex-girlfriend of Epstein, who became a longtime member of his inner circle. In a 2003 Vanity Fair article, Epstein was quoted as saying Maxwell was his best friend.
Epstein has been linked socially to numerous powerful figures, from President Donald Trump to former President Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew.
In June, US prosecutors accused the prince of evading their efforts to question him about his contacts with Epstein.
Andrew has publicly stated he will cooperate with any appropriate law enforcement agency. US Attorney General William Barr said in June there were no plans to extradite Andrew.
Since Epstein's arrest and death last year, questions have arisen how he built his vast wealth, which included two privately owned Caribbean islands, multiple homes and one of the largest mansions in Manhattan.