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Sensemaker: Maxwell trial

Sensemaker: Maxwell trial

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Twitter’s chief executive and co-founder Jack Dorsey resigned with immediate effect (more below).
  • Sweden’s first woman prime minister was reappointed to the premiership after political turmoil forced her out within hours of taking the job last week.
  • Supermarket giant Asda chartered a cargo ship to prevent shortages of products over the Christmas period.

Maxwell trial

“I want to tell you about a young girl named Jane,” assistant US attorney Lara Elizabeth Pomerantz told jurors in a New York courtroom yesterday. Jane was a 14-year-old girl who met a man and woman at a camp, but “what Jane didn’t know then is that man and woman were predators”. The man was Jeffrey Epstein. “Who was that woman targeting young girls for sexual abuse? It was the defendant: Ghislaine Maxwell.”

The Maxwell trial will dominate New York news for the next six weeks. It brings to a head a quest for justice by at least 30 women in addition to the four alleged victims in her case; a long and costly effort by Maxwell to depict herself as a scapegoat for Epstein’s crimes; and a familiar story about the distortion of American justice by big money and celebrity.

Epstein is the billionaire and convicted sex offender who killed himself in New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center last year. 

Maxwell, his ex-girlfriend and daughter of the late media tycoon Robert Maxwell, faces 80 years in jail if convicted of sex trafficking on his account.

Virginia Giuffre, Epstein’s best-known accuser, is not a witness in the case. 

Prince Andrew, who denies Giuffre’s claim that he sexually assaulted her at Epstein’s behest, is not involved either, but he was a close associate of both Maxwell and Epstein and prosecutors have indicated they may attempt to refer to the contents of her contacts book in the trial. 

In the rest of her opening statement, Pomerantz said Maxwell found and targeted young girls from deprived backgrounds for Epstein to sexually abuse under the guise of massages. They promised the girls the world and, in a “pyramid scheme of abuse”, asked them to bring in other girls with the promise of cash rewards. “Ladies and gentleman,” Pomerantz said, “Jane was not the only one.”

Maxwell is facing six sex trafficking charges that involve four alleged underage victims between 1994 and 2004. She denies all the charges. Her lawyer, Bobbi Sternheim, responded with an opening statement that framed the case as yet another woman being blamed for a man’s wrongdoing – the same old story “ever since Eve was accused of tempting Adam for the apple”. 

Prosecutors are going after Maxwell, Sternheim argued, because they never got Epstein. In 2019, he was found in dead in his cell from suicide before he could go on trial. Maxwell is “filling that hole”, Sternheim said. “Filling that empty chair.”

As for the alleged victims, Sternheim said they were motivated by compensation claims against Epstein, and now Maxwell, and that their memories were manipulated by press coverage and were faulty. She intends to call “false memory” expert Elizabeth Loftus, who testified for Harvey Weinstein, OJ Simpson, and many other criminal defendants who wanted to undermine their accusers’ credibility. 

An alleged victim, Sarah Ransome, was in court. Before she entered the building, she told reporters: “I never thought this day would come.” 

The trial opens more than 25 years after the first allegations of Maxwell’s indictment. Yesterday’s opening statements show how fiercely it will be fought.

belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Channel crossings
France’s interior minister Gérald Darmanin said relations between his country and Britain were not “normal”, as their argument over the migrant channel crossings continued. Yesterday Darmanin rebuffed Boris Johnson’s offer of a deal to return “all their migrants”, saying the prime minister was only looking to shift responsibility for the crisis onto France. A Downing Street spokesman said the best deterrent to channel crossings was such a deal. Darmanin described it as “mockery”. Meanwhile, a shepherd who survived last week’s boat sinking claimed migrants on board appealed for help from both French and British authorities, only for each side to pass the buck. Twenty-seven people died, including children and a pregnant woman.

New things technology, science, engineering

Twitter top change
Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and chief executive of Twitter, is handing over the reins to the company’s chief technology officer. Parag Agrawal has worked at Twitter for over a decade. In his resignation letter, Dorsey wrote about the limiting effect of companies being “founder-led”. Twitter is a major part of the news ecosystem, but in its 15 years it’s never achieved anything near the success or scale of (very founder-led) Facebook. Sometimes the founder is the problem; Dorsey has been criticised over his perceived inability to manage Twitter and his digital payments company Square at the same time. After his resignation from Twitter, the company’s share price rose 11 per cent.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Vaccine variant
The World Health Organization said the new variant of Covid known as Omicron could lead to infection surges around the world. Detected in South Africa earlier this month, Omicron so far appears to pose a higher re-infection risk than other variants but not a higher risk of severe illness. Epidemiologists are confident vaccines will be effective, which is why Britain has accelerated its roll-out of boosters and why the WHO chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has renewed his call to get vaccines to poorer nations. Until those nations are adequately vaccinated, variants will keep emerging and richer countries will keep needing boosters.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Iran nuclear purity
Israel shared intelligence with the US and European allies indicating that Iran is preparing to enrich uranium to 90 per cent purity – the grade needed to make a nuclear weapon, and a level higher than needed for any civilian use. Israel has been sharing its intelligence over the past two weeks in the lead-up to the resumption of nuclear talks in Vienna, which opened yesterday. The aim is to restore a 2015 accord that limited Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions. Israeli analysts suspect that Iran moving rapidly towards weapons-grade purity is an attempt to gain leverage at the talks. Ali Bagheri Kani, the Iranian negotiator, described the prioritisation of sanctions relief in today’s talks as an achievement.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Parliamentary cash point
The House of Commons standards committee recommended an “outright ban” on MPs working as paid consultants, more clarity on gifts and hospitality received by MPs, and said ministers should be more open about any potential conflicts of interest. These very reasonable recommendations were agreed unanimously by the committee’s cross-party selection of MPs and its seven co-opted lay members. The next stage is an open consultation. The final stage will be a Commons vote by Easter. But don’t count on things going smoothly. Dozens of MPs have earned millions of pounds doing consultancy work this past year alone. The committee is asking turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Paul Caruana Galizia

Edited by Xavier Greenwood and produced by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images