Is Ghislaine Maxwell a wealthy flight risk? A US court thinks so
Sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein’s long-time friend said she has less than $1m in the bank, a claim the judge found ‘implausible’
New York/San Francisco — The daughter of one extremely rich man and the longtime confidante of another, Ghislaine Maxwell has always enjoyed proximity to wealth. But how much money she has herself is a mystery.
Maxwell, who has pleaded not guilty to charges she recruited girls for sexual abuse by Jeffrey Epstein, is spending the next year in jail in part because her “opaque” finances led the judge overseeing the case to conclude she was an extraordinary flight risk.
“At a basic level, the defence argument is that she cannot remember off the top of her head just how many millions of dollars she has,” assistant US attorney Alison Moe said at Maxwell’s bail hearing. The prosecutor said Maxwell’s claims to have less than $1m in the bank and no monthly income was “implausible”.
Evidence of great wealth on Maxwell’s part, especially if the money came from Epstein, could bolster prosecutors’ depiction of her as fully complicit in his crimes. Her lawyers have so far suggested Maxwell is less wealthy than many believe and sought to distance her from Epstein’s private-jet and private-island lifestyle.
Epstein, who died in jail last August in an apparent suicide after being arrested on sex-trafficking charges, left an estate estimated to be worth about $630m.
Nicholas Biase, a spokesperson for Manhattan US attorney Audrey Strauss, and Mark Cohen, a lawyer for Maxwell, didn’t respond to e-mails seeking comment about Maxwell’s finances.
At the bail hearing, prosecutors said they’d identified more than 15 different bank accounts associated with Maxwell from 2016 to the present with balances ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than $20m. She sold a Manhattan townhouse for $15m in 2016 and still has one in London that she offered as a bail guarantee.
It’s also unclear whether Maxwell has access to funds from an unidentified spouse mentioned by prosecutors on Tuesday. She previously toured the secluded New Hampshire estate where she was arrested July 2 with a man who said he was her husband.
According to prosecutors, the property was actually purchased by Maxwell for $1m in cash using a limited liability company. After she was arrested, she told authorities she didn’t know the name of the company that owned the house and that she merely had permission to stay there.
The government further said it has information that, between 2007 and 2011, more than $20m was transferred from offshore accounts associated with Epstein to several associated with Maxwell. Millions were later transferred back.
Jordan Waxman, managing partner of New York wealth management firm Nucleus Advisors, said $20m seemed a low amount for someone using offshore accounts. It is possible that is just the tip of the iceberg, he said.
“I would venture to say 20 is probably what they found so far and that the net worth would be substantially more,” said Waxman. “The other thing is Jeffrey Epstein was allegedly worth $570-or-so million. What was she doing as his number two, and with only $20m?”
At the hearing, Maxwell’s lawyer Cohen pushed back at the government’s claims about his client’s wealth, particularly allegations that she was “associated” with 15 accounts.
“No detail, no explanation to the court, just more dirt,” Cohen said. “Well, she has three bank accounts that she disclosed.” He said it is possible there were other accounts related to a now-defunct non-profit that Maxwell formerly ran that they were willing to track down if the court deemed it important.
Cohen also said proceeds from Maxwell’s Manhattan townhouse sale have already been depleted due to various liabilities and expenses, including “extensive, substantial litigation”. Maxwell, in 2017, settled for undisclosed terms a defamation suit by Epstein victim Virginia Guiffre and is now paying four lawyers to defend her against criminal charges.
In March, Maxwell sued Epstein’s estate to cover her legal costs, claiming he had always pledged to provide her with financial assistance.
A major question hanging over Maxwell is whether she inherited considerable wealth from her father, British publishing tycoon Robert. Once ranked among the world’s richest men, Robert died in 1991 as his media empire, which once included the New York Daily News, was crumbling and he began to default on huge loans. After his death, hundreds of millions of pounds were found to have been diverted from his companies’ pension funds.
Though it’s often been assumed that Maxwell was left penniless by the scandals that engulfed her father’s company and led her older brother to declare the largest personal bankruptcy in UK history, federal prosecutors in New York raised the possibility that she still had substantial family money at her disposal.
“It is very unclear whether the defendant is receiving proceeds from trust accounts or an inheritance or means of other kinds,” prosecutor Moe said at the hearing. She said the government is aware of a Swiss trust benefiting Maxwell that held more than $4m last month and in which a relative served as trustee.
Cohen countered that Maxwell disclosed her Swiss account in a filing with the US Internal Revenue Service and said one of the fund transfers was due to the maturation of a $500,000 bond.
Harvey Bezozi, an accountant and financial adviser in Connecticut, said it would make sense for Robert to try to protect some wealth for his family: “I would imagine that the family inheritance or trust was constructed by a highly competent estate tax attorney.”
Much of Maxwell’s offshore wealth may remain elusive to US authorities, said Waxman. “It could be an elaborate shell game — where the peanut’s underneath the shell and it keeps moving around and there are more and more shells.”
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