PARIS — Prosecutors in France said on Friday that they had opened a preliminary investigation into the scandal surrounding the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, in connection with possible offenses such as rape, the sexual assault of minors and criminal conspiracy.
Rémy Heitz, the Paris prosecutor, announced the investigation after “exchanges” with the United States authorities, he said.
Mr. Heitz did not reveal whether his office had received any specific accusations involving Mr. Epstein, but said in a statement that the investigation would aim to “uncover potential offenses” committed either in France or against French victims abroad.
The prosecutor said he also would look into the possibility of French perpetrators. The statement did not name any individuals.
Mr. Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail cell this month after being accused of sexually abusing and trafficking dozens of girls over many years. American prosecutors are now focusing on those who may have helped him in the sex-trafficking ring, and several accusers still plan to pursue lawsuits.
One name that has arisen in court documents related to Mr. Epstein’s case is that of Jean-Luc Brunel, a former French modeling agent, who was accused by some of Mr. Epstein’s victims of procuring young girls for him. Mr. Brunel has faced accusations of abuse himself: Three former models told The Guardian this month that he sexually assaulted them in the 1980s and ’90s in and around Paris.
Mr. Brunel started his career in France but later expanded to the United States, where he met and befriended Mr. Epstein before the two had a falling out as the sex-trafficking accusations emerged.
ImageCreditNew York State Sex Offender Regi, via Associated Press
Written memos of phone calls that were kept by Mr. Epstein’s staff at his Palm Beach mansion between 2004 and 2005 — some of which were included in a trove of court documents that was unsealed this month — also showed that a friend named “Jean-Luc” had left messages for Mr. Epstein with veiled references to girls.
One memo from 2005 said that “Jean-Luc” had called about a “teacher for you to teach you how to speak Russian” who was “2×8 years old” and “not blonde.”
“Lessons are free and you can have your 1st today if you call,” the memo said.
Mr. Brunel, now 72, has not been named by French prosecutors or charged with any crimes, and he has not publicly commented on the latest accusations against him or on recent events involving Mr. Epstein. In a 2015 statement to The Guardian, Mr. Brunel strongly denied involvement, “directly or indirectly,” in Mr. Epstein’s activities.
It was not immediately clear how long the Paris prosecutor’s preliminary investigation would last. Under French law, prosecutors can open preliminary investigations but must hand over to specialized magistrates many of the most serious cases involving crimes such as murder and rape. The magistrates, who have broad investigative powers, can place defendants under formal investigation.
But not all preliminary investigations reach that stage, and prosecutors can drop cases if they do not uncover firm evidence of wrongdoing.
French advocacy groups that focus on child abuse had for weeks called for an investigation to be opened in France. One group, Innocence in Danger, told the newspaper Le Parisien this week that 10 people had reached out to it over the past month in connection with the allegations against Mr. Epstein.
Homayra Sellier, the group’s president, told the newspaper that the people had presented themselves as either victims or witnesses of sexual violence, but did she did not provide details of the allegations.
Two French ministers — Marlène Schiappa, the junior minister for gender equality, and Adrien Taquet, the junior minister for child protection — had said this month that Mr. Epstein’s death left “many unanswered questions” and that French legal authorities needed to open an investigation.
The ministers later said that they did not have knowledge of incriminating evidence against Mr. Epstein, but were merely seeking a “clarification.”
SOURCE : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/23/world/europe/paris-epstein-investigation.html