Ghislaine Maxwell: prosecutors defend new indictment as July trial looms

Prosecutors in the case of Ghislaine Maxwell have defended a late expansion of charges against her, saying it became necessary because a woman spoke after the Briton’s arrest about abuse at the hands of Jeffrey Epstein in the early 2000s.

Prosecutors also told a judge in New York they opposed any move to delay Maxwell’s trial, which is set to begin on 12 July.

The rewritten indictment against the 59-year-old Maxwell, daughter of the press baron Robert Maxwell, was lodged on 29 March. It added sex trafficking charges to allegations Maxwell recruited three teenage girls from 1994 to 1997 for Epstein to sexually abuse. The new charges stretched the conspiracy to 2004.

Two days after the superseding indictment was returned in Manhattan federal court, the defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim called it “shocking, unfair, and an abuse of power”, saying the charges were based on evidence prosecutors had for years.

“That the government has made this move late in the game … is obvious tactical gamesmanship,” Sternheim wrote to the judge.

Sternheim said defense lawyers had not decided whether to ask to postpone the trial, but her letter suggested it was highly likely and would be further grounds for Maxwell’s release on bail.

On Friday, prosecutors wrote to the judge saying they would oppose any delay of a trial set for almost exactly a year after Maxwell was arrested in New Hampshire. They said the timing of the new charges “was dictated by developments in the government’s ongoing investigation, not the nefarious motivations suggested by the defense”.

Prosecutors conceded the woman whose claims led to the new charges was interviewed in 2007 during an investigation of Epstein in Florida. But they said she did not agree to be interviewed in the current investigation until last July. Interviews were finished in January.

Prosecutors said they had spent two months corroborating the woman’s claims before seeking the superseding indictment. Maxwell’s arraignment on the new charges is scheduled for this month.

According to the indictment, the woman was sexually abused multiple times by Epstein between 2001 and 2004 at his residence in Palm Beach, Florida, beginning when she was 14 years old. It said Maxwell groomed the girl to engage in sex acts with Epstein by giving her gifts and cash.

Epstein was facing sex trafficking charges when he killed himself in a Manhattan federal jail in August 2019.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty. She has been held without bail in Brooklyn. A judge has repeatedly rejected bail packages that would require the posting of $28.5m in assets and require Maxwell to remain home with armed guards.

Prosecutors say they will oppose any request to grant bail if the trial is postponed. Defense lawyers say Maxwell’s health is deteriorating. Prosecutors say that is untrue.