Celebrities, royals and politicians brace themselves as court orders release of explosive Jeffrey Epstein files
In Room 270, the records management unit, on the second floor of an imposing granite and marble courthouse in lower Manhattan, 167 documents totaling more than 2,000 pages are being kept under lock and key.
But they are about to be unsealed and made public – making a host of important people around the world, including celebrities, politicians and royals, very nervous.
The files contain explosive allegations in the case of Giuffre v Maxwell, in which Virginia Giuffre, a woman who claims to have been Jeffrey Epstein’s teenage “sex slave”, sued Ghislaine Maxwell, a British socialite and the billionaire’s former girlfriend, for defamation.
The case was settled in May 2017 on the eve of the trial but the details were not disclosed and the final judgment and supporting documents were sealed, with the court noting the “highly sensitive nature of the underlying allegations.”
According to other court documents that have been published, Ms Giuffre has made allegations of sexual abuse against “numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well‐known Prime Minister, and other world leaders.”
An appeal to unseal the rest of the documents was launched by the Miami Herald newspaper, which has spearheaded media investigations into Epstein. It was rejected three times.
But last month the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ordered their release, ruling that the public’s right to know outweighed the privacy rights of the high-profile individuals named.
It what may be an indication of the fame of those individuals, the judges made a striking plea to the media to “exercise restraint” in reporting the allegations about to come to light. They also allowed parties involved to apply for minor redactions, delaying the release.
Another delay is possible as Miss Maxwell has launched an appeal to keep the documents sealed, her lawyers arguing that a full release would trigger a “furious feeding frenzy.”
They wrote: “Plaintiff Giuffre made numerous allegations of sexual, if not criminal, conduct against a wide range of third parties. Because of the media no reference to anyone in this case is benign: a reference to any person is toxic and lethal to that person’s reputation. Facts and truth are all but irrelevant.”
The legal battle between Ms Giuffre and Miss Maxwell began in late 2014 when Ms Giuffre claimed that Epstein sexually abused her starting in 2000 when she was 16, with the “assistance and participation” of Miss Maxwell. She also made allegations against the Duke of York, which were categorically denied by Buckingham Palace.
Miss Maxwell described the claims as “obvious lies,” and Ms Giuffre then sued her for defamation.
In a recent statement Josh Schiller, a lawyer for Ms Giuffre, said the appeal court was unlikely to overturn an unsealing decision, and he believed Miss Maxwell’s appeal would cause only a “short delay” in releasing the documents. He added: “There is an overwhelming public interest.”
The appeal court’s decision to release the documents came just three days before Epstein was arrested last month, charged with sex trafficking. Prosecutors in New York have accused him of assaulting dozens of girls as young as 14.
The case has thrown the Marlborough College and Oxford-educated Miss Maxwell, 57, back into the spotlight. She moved to New York in 1991, the year her father – disgraced newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell – died. In New York, herself and Epstein became a fixture on the social scene.
Miss Maxwell was well-connected. Guests including Donald Trump had partied on her father’s yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, as far back as 1989.
She is a private helicopter pilot and a deep water submarine pilot. In 2012 she founded the TerraMar Project in New York, aimed at creating a “global ocean community” to protect international waters, and spoke about it at the United Nations.
Last month, six days after Epstein’s arrest, the TerraMar Project announced it would “cease all operations.”
Miss Maxwell sold her Manhattan townhouse for $15 million in 2016, and her current whereabouts are unclear.