Billionaire charged with sex trafficking of minors

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Wealthy US financier and friend of the powerful, Jeffrey Epstein, has been formally charged in New York with running “a vast network” of underage girls for sex.

The indictment alleges he enticed minors to visit his Manhattan and Florida mansions between 2002 and 2005.

According to the charges, the girls, some as young as 14, were given hundreds of dollars for sex acts.

Epstein is expected to plead not guilty to the charges.

He faces one count of sex trafficking and one of sex trafficking conspiracy.

The 66-year-old hedge fund manager was arrested on Saturday at Teterboro Airport after arriving from France on his private jet.

He is due to appear in court. Reports suggest he could remain in custody until a bail hearing on Thursday.

The indictment alleges Epstein knew his victims were under 18. Often they would be invited to carry out a massage nude before being subjected to sexual abuse, it says.

The accused “also paid certain of his victims to recruit additional girls to be similarly abused”, the document alleges.

He conspired with others “including employees and associates” who helped schedule encounters at his Manhattan mansion and Palm Beach residence, it is alleged.

Epstein has maintained that he believed the girls were at least 18 and that the encounters were consensual.

At a news conference, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, said a police raid on Epstein’s Manhattan property resulted in the seizure of what appeared to be photos of naked girls.

He said that Epstein presented a flight risk and he would recommend that defendant remained in custody pending trial. Mr Berman appealed to anyone who may have been a victim or have information to come forward.

“The alleged behavior shocks the conscience,” he said. “And while the alleged conduct is from a number of years ago it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims. They deserve their day in court.”

Epstein, once a friend of Prince Andrew, former US President Bill Clinton and President Donald Trump, was previously accused of abusing dozens of teenage girls between 1999 and 2007.

But he reached a plea deal to avoid federal sex trafficking charges in the case.

He instead pleaded guilty in 2008 to lesser Florida state charges of soliciting and procuring a person under the age of 18 for prostitution.

He spent 13 months in jail and registered as a sex offender, avoiding a possible life sentence.

Earlier this year, a Florida judge ruled that federal prosecutors broke the law by not informing Epstein’s victims of the plea deal at the time.

Judge Kenneth Marra is currently deciding whether the non-prosecution agreement that protected Epstein from the more serious charges should still stand.

Following the ruling, the White House said it was also “looking into” Labour Secretary Alexander Acosta’s role in the plea deal, which he approved in his previous role as a US attorney.

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