Jeffrey Epstein: Who is embroiled in sex scandal - and why are there conspiracy theories over his death?

Nick Allen

Outrage and intrigue surrounds the apparent suicide in prison of Jeffrey Epstein, a convicted paedophile who had connections to celebrities and presidents. 

His death sparked questions about whether the alleged victims will have a full chance at justice, though US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said the federal investigation into allegations that Epstein ran a sex trafficking ring remains ongoing.

Among those dragged into one of the biggest sex scandals of a generation is the Duke of York, a former friend of the high-flying financier.

Epstein, who hobnobbed with countless politicians and celebrities over the years, was found dead in his cell on Saturday while awaiting trial.

Here is everything we know about the case. 

Who was Jeffrey Epstein?

Epstein, 66, was a hedge fund manager who once socialised with the rich, famous and powerful.

Epstein owned a private island in the Caribbean, homes in Paris and New York City, a New Mexico ranch, and a fleet of high-price cars. 

Under a 2008 non-prosecution agreement, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges in Florida of solicitation of prostitution involving a minor and another similar prostitution charge.

That allowed him to avoid federal prosecution and a possible life sentence, instead serving 13 months in a work-release programme. He was required to make payments to victims and register as a sex offender.

Jeffrey Epstein looks on during a a bail hearing last month  Credit: Reuters

Last month, he was arrested by FBI officers when his private jet landed at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey following a trip to Paris.

He was then charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.

Prosecutors said Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage teens, some as young as 14, at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005.

The young women were paid hundreds of dollars in cash to massage him, perform sexual acts and to recruit other girls, prosecutors alleged.

Epstein denied the charges and faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

Who has been caught up in the scandal?

Politicians, celebrities and even members of the Royal family have been embroiled in the controversy after a Manhattan court released 1,200 pages of documents detailing lurid claims of the alleged abuse carried out by Jeffrey Epstein.

Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell

The files relate to the case of Giuffre v Maxwell, in which Virginia Giuffre, who claims to have been the US ­businessman’s teenage “sex slave”, sued Ghislaine Maxwell, a British ­socialite and the billionaire’s former girlfriend, for defamation.

Testimony includes claims by Giuffre that she had sex with the Duke of York when she was 17.  All the allegations about Prince Andrew were struck from the court record in 2015 after being described as "immaterial and impertinent" by the judge. The Prince has always denied the allegations and any involvement.

The documents released state it is “an undisputed fact that multiple witnesses deposed in this case” have testified that Ms Maxwell, daughter of Robert Maxwell “operated as convicted paedophile Epstein’s procurer of under age girls”. The defamation case, filed in 2015, was settled out of court by Ms Maxwell in 2017.

Ms Maxwell called Ms Guiffre’s claims ­“fictitious lies and stories to make this a salacious event”.

Separately, the documents refer to his former friendships with people such as Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Both have denied knowing anything about Epstein's alleged crimes. 

How did Epstein die?

According to the US department of justice it was an "apparent suicide" in which he hanged himself in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional center in Manhattan. He was discovered at 6.30am on Saturday.

Epstein had previously been found on the floor of his cell with bruises on his neck on July 23. He was placed on suicide watch, which included having a daily psychiatric evaluation, and checks by prison guards every 15 minutes. But less than a week later he was taken off suicide watch.

He was still supposed to be checked every 30 minutes but that was not done on the night he died. His cellmate had been transferred and he was alone in the cell. The US attorney general said he was "livid". The FBI and the inspector general have launched inquiries into what went wrong.

What are the conspiracy theories?

Epstein's death immediately sparked conspiracy theories because the possibility he might tell all about his sordid life was undeniably embarrassing to a host of high profile politicians and celebrities who knew him.

Depending on political persuasion, conspiracy theorists pointed the finger at either Mr Trump, or Bill and Hillary Clinton. The hashtags "Trumpbodycount" and "Clintonbodycount" began trending on Twitter.

One Trump administration official wrote on social media that Epstein had been "Hillary'd". The Clintons responded that the conspiracy theory was "ridiculous."

Bill de Blasio, the New York mayor, fanned the flames. He said: "What a lot of us want to know is, what did he know? How on earth is he not under special protection? What's really going on here?"

A former inmate at the jail in Manhattan, where drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was once held, said: "There’s no way that man [Epstein] could have killed himself. I’ve done too much time in those units. It’s an impossibility."

What happens to the Epstein case?

His death means the criminal case against Epstein, in which he was charged with trafficking underage girls for sex, is over. However, the charges included that he was part of a "conspiracy" and prosecutors made clear they would continue to pursue any alleged co-conspirators.

That means other individuals in Epstein's orbit could still be charged with crimes. The focus now is on associates of Epstein who have been accused either of having sex with teenage girls, or procuring them for Epstein and others.

Adam Citron, a former New York prosecutor, told The Daily Telegraph the prosecutors might "absolutely" want to speak to the Duke and Ms Maxwell, as witnesses as they built up a picture of Epstein's world.

The prosecutors in New York believe a flood of new information could emerge as employees of Epstein who signed non disclosure agreements during his lifetime may now feel free to talk. However, Epstein's estate could still sue them if they breach the agreements by speaking.

Will the alleged victims be compensated?

Epstein was worth hundreds of millions of dollars and lawyers for the alleged victims immediately called for his estate to be frozen, saying they will sue his estate.

Several of Epstein's accusers said they were disappointed that the financier would not face them in court or serve a long prison sentence if convicted. They called on federal authorities to investigate associates of Epstein for any role in his activities.

Sigrid McCawley, a lawyer representing one accuser, said in a statement that "the reckoning of accountability begun by the voices of brave and truthful victims should not end" with Epstein's death.

Jennifer Araoz

Another accuser, Jennifer Araoz, who came forward after the new charges were filed, said she was angered by Epstein's suicide. Ms Araoz alleged that Epstein raped her in his New York mansion in the early 2000s when she was 15.

"We have to live with the scars of his actions for the rest of our lives, while he will never face the consequences of the crimes he committed the pain and trauma he caused so many people," she said.

Eva Ford, mother of alleged Epstein victim Courtney Wild, questioned why Epstein was not being monitored more closely.

“How does someone who is this high profile commit suicide?” Ford told the Miami Herald. “They had to have cameras on him! Someone must have been paid to look the other way.”