French investigators will want to know whether any alleged abuses took place at Jeffrey Epstein's Paris apartment
Paris (AFP) - French prosecutors said Friday they had opened an inquiry into the suspected rape and sexual abuse of minors linked to the scandal surrounding disgraced US multimillionaire Jeffrey Epstein.
The move came after growing calls for French investigators to look into allegations of abuse at Epstein's sumptuous apartment near the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
"The investigations... will focus on potential crimes against French victims committed on national territory as well as abroad, and on perpetrators who are French citizens," Paris Prosecutor Remy Heitz said in a statement.
The potential charges could include the rape and sexual assault of minors aged 15 and over, the prosecutors said.
It will also investigate claims Epstein and others participated for years in a vast child sex trafficking ring.
The move came after US investigators turned up links in France in their probe into the disgraced financier, who was found hanged at his New York jail cell on August 10 while awaiting trial on new sex trafficking charges.
He had been arrested five weeks earlier after flying back to the United States after a trip to Paris.
Earlier this week Innocence in Danger, a French charity working to protect children against sexual violence, said it had collected 10 witness statements involving alleged sexual crimes involving minors that took place in France.
The testimonies were from both victims and those who had witnessed alleged abuse, "probably at the hands of French people," the NGO's head Homayra Sellier told AFP.
Some but not all of the victims were French.
- Epstein ally -
Investigators are likely to be asking questions about a formerly powerful French modelling tycoon in his 70s named Jean-Luc Brunel, a close friend of Epstein.
Four years ago, Brunel was named in a civil lawsuit in which he was accused of rape and procuring young girls for the US financier.
Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who filed the suit, accused Epstein of using her as a "sex slave" and said she had been forced to have sex with well-known politicians and businessmen, including Brunel.
She also alleged that Brunel would bring girls as young as 12 to the United States and pass them on to his friends, including Epstein.
Shortly afterwards, Brunel issued a rare statement that itself broke years of silence in which he vehemently denied involvement, "directly or indirectly", in Epstein's crimes.
Like various other former allies of the late billionaire, Brunel has not been heard of since Epstein was charged in early July.
- '30 names in France' -
Earlier this month, Innocence in Danger urged French investigators to "shed light on" what went on behind the walls of Epstein's Paris apartment, where Brunel was a regular visitor.
Two French government ministers have also demanded action, saying the US inquiry had exposed links with France that needed investigating.
"The verifications and cross-checking undertaken on the basis of elements submitted to prosecutors and exchanges with the American authorities in the context of the Epstein affair have prompted the Paris prosecutor's office to open a preliminary inquiry," Friday's statement said.
Epstein, who at one time counted Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Britain's Prince Andrew among his friends, has been linked to a string of sordid abuses involving underage girls at his Palm Beach home and on his private Caribbean island.
He has been accused of recruiting young girls to administer massages which frequently led to abuse and even rape.
His address book, which was made public in 2015 through the Gawker website, included dozens of names listed under "massages", some 30 of which were in France.
Long before the Epstein scandal broke, Brunel was accused of rape by several models in a CBS television documentary released in 1988.
And last week, the French investigative website Mediapart released testimony from a former Dutch model, Thysia Huisman, alleging she was "drugged and raped" by Brunel in the early 1990s. At the time she was 18.