Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and longtime associate of the late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, has been arrested on US charges of luring underage girls so Epstein could sexually abuse them.
The FBI arrest of the British socialite is the latest twist in the mystery of Epstein, who went from a high school maths teacher to high-flying lifestyle of private Caribbean islands and powerful connections his victims say allowed him to abuse minors with impunity.
Maxwell, 58, was arrested in Bradford, New Hampshire, where she had been laying low since December, the FBI says.
Maxwell appeared briefly by video from jail at a hearing on Thursday in New Hampshire federal court, where a judge ordered her to face the criminal charges in New York. She did not enter a plea and bail was not determined.
She spoke briefly, answering yes when asked if she knew her rights. Her lawyer, Larry Vogelman, declined further comment on her behalf.
Prosecutors said she was a flight risk and asked she be detained without bail. She faces up to 35 years in prison.
Maxwell is charged with four criminal counts related to procuring and transporting minors for illegal sex acts and two of perjury, according to the indictment by federal prosecutors in New York.
"Maxwell was among Epstein's closest associates and helped him exploit girls who were as young as 14 years old," said acting Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss.
"Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse. In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse herself."
Epstein was awaiting trial on federal charges of trafficking minors between 2002 and 2005 when he was found hanged in an apparent suicide while in a New York City jail in August. He was 66.
Previously, he pleaded guilty in Florida to state charges of solicitation of prostitution from a minor in a 2008 deal with prosecutors that was widely criticised as too lenient.
The indictment accuses Maxwell of luring the girls beginning in 1994 through 1997 by asking them about their lives, schools and families and taking them shopping or to movies.
Strauss called Maxwell's alleged acts "the prequel" to Epstein's abuse.
After Maxwell won the girls' trust, the indictment alleges, she would try to "normalise sexual abuse" by discussing sexual topics or by undressing in front of them or being present when they were undressed.
Strauss said the abuse took place at Epstein's homes in New York, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Palm Beach, Florida, as well as Maxwell's residence in London.
Epstein has been linked socially to several powerful figures, from President Donald Trump to former president Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew.
In June, then-US Attorney for Manhattan Geoffrey Berman said Prince Andrew was evading their efforts to question him about his contacts with Epstein. Berman was fired later the same month.
"We would welcome Prince Andrew coming in to talk with us," Strauss said.
A source close to Andrew said his team was "bewildered" by Strauss's comments because they had twice communicated with the Department of Justice in the past month without a response.
US Attorney-General William Barr said in June there were no plans to extradite Andrew.
The case is being handled by prosecutors in the public corruption unit. A spokesman declined to comment on why that unit would handle the case.
Australian Associated Press