French ministers seek investigation into Epstein’s activities in France
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Two French government ministers called on Monday for an investigation into the activities in France of Jeffrey Epstein, the US financier found dead in an apparent suicide while being held on sex-trafficking charges.
Epstein, a convicted paedophile who hobnobbed with countless politicians and celebrities over the years, was arrested on July 6 in New Jersey after his private jet landed on a flight from Paris, where he owned a luxurious apartment in the French capital’s leafy 16th arrondissement (district).
He was found dead in his cell on Saturday while awaiting trial on federal charges he trafficked underage girls for sex. The discovery came a day after a court released documents in which one of Epstein's alleged victims claimed she was exploited as his "sex slave" for years, including during trips to Paris.
"The American investigation has highlighted ties with France. It therefore seems fundamental to us, and for the victims, that an investigation should be opened in France so that all the light is shed on this matter," France’s Gender Equality Minister Marlène Schiappa said in a joint statement with the child welfare minister, Adrien Taquet.
“Epstein’s death must not deny his victims the justice they are entitled to,” the ministers added, noting that an investigation would help ensure young women are given better protection in future.
"We would like to use this occasion to highlight again our utmost determination to protect young girls from sexual violence and especially from being exploited by criminal networks, and this should result in new measures being announced during the final quarter of this year," Schiappa and Taquet wrote.
However, their cabinet colleague Nicole Belloubet, the justice minister, later stressed that it was not the government's responsibility to initiate investigations.
"Since 2013, investigations started individually are forbidden, in compliance with the principle of judicial independence," Belloubet told AFP.
‘Little black book’
US prosecutors say 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 allege. Epstein faced up to 45 years in prison if convicted.
According to the court documents released on Friday, one of Epstein’s accusers, who said she was hired as a “masseuse” aged 15, alleged that she was used as the billionaire’s “sex slave” during frequent trips to the French capital.
The plaintiff, who claimed to have been a fixture of Epstein’s lurid escapades for four years, told investigators she saw Epstein and his close associates abuse women from across the world, including three French 12-year-olds who she alleged were sent to him as a birthday present.
On Monday, French daily Le Parisien noted that the names of several French businessmen and aristocrats featured in Epstein’s contact book – known as the “little black book” – alongside those of his regular Parisian “masseuses”.
Innocence In Danger, a French child protection NGO, has written to Paris prosecutors calling for an investigation into Epstein’s conduct in France.
“He must have had some French ‘masseuses’, with the complicity of many people here,” the NGO’s director Homayra Sellier told French weekly L’Express. “It’s pretty obvious, given his record.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)