American billionaire and financier Jeffrey Epstein is facing new charges for the alleged sex trafficking of minors, some as young as 14 years old.
At the same time, a court order from last week to unseal roughly 2,000 pages of documents from a defamation case related to 2014 allegations against Epstein could spell trouble for many of the prominent businessman’s powerful friends — including one described at the time as “a well-known Prime Minister.”
Federal prosecutors held a press conference on Monday and announced they have charged Epstein with the sex trafficking of multiple alleged victims, including minors, in what they described as an “outrageous” case of criminal activity. Epstein has pleaded not guilty.
They also preemptively addressed questions about whether other prominent individuals could be tied to the new charges, saying they are prohibited from commenting on any other connections to the case.
“The Jeffrey Epstein case is the No. 1 in the country,” said William F. Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Newark field office, in a plea for any other victims to come forward and share their stories.
The case itself is complex, spanning decades and including multiple iterations of attempts to bring criminal charges against the man.
WATCH: Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein pleads not guilty to sex charges involving minors
The charges laid on Monday appear at this time to be similar but distinct from a series of allegations made by two individuals in 2014, which accused Epstein and a number of world leaders of sexual abuse.
“These petitioners included in their filings not only descriptions of sexual abuse by Epstein, but also new allegations of sexual abuse by several other prominent individuals, ‘including numerous prominent American politicians, powerful business executives, foreign presidents, a well‐known Prime Minister, and other world leaders,'” states an order to unseal records issued last week by a New York appeals court.
It does not give any indication of which country the prime minister in question could be from.
Those allegations led to a 2015 defamation case by one of the alleged victims against Epstein’s partner, Ghislaine Maxwell, who called them lies.
While the defamation case was settled in 2017, several media outlets including the Miami Herald, the New York Times and the Washington Post went to court to demand that the documents filed as part of that defamation case be released to the public.
A New York federal appeals court ruled in their favour last week.
“We find that there is no countervailing privacy interest sufficient to justify their continued sealing,” the court said.
WATCH: David Boies the attorney for some of the alleged victims of Jeffrey Epstein comments on the strength of the case outside court on Monday.
What could be in those documents?
The order to unseal relates to about 167 documents — roughly 2,000 pages — of the material filed in that 2015 defamation case.
As noted in the court order last week, they include a range of material including motions to compel discovery, motions for sanctions and adverse interference, motions to have some submissions deemed inadmissible, and similar material.
Thousands of additional pages of material in that defamation case could also be reviewed and subject to that unsealing order.
WATCH: Sigrid McCauley, the attorney for alleged Jeffrey Epstein victims reads a statement from her clients.
Virginia Giuffre, who self-identified as one of the alleged victims in the 2014 allegations, has claimed she was forced to have sex with prominent men including the U.K.’s Prince Andrew and Alan Dershowitz, who is Epstein’s lawyer.
Dershowitz was quoted by the Miami Herald as saying he believes the material set to be unsealed will prove he is innocent.
“When the materials are unsealed, the public will see the evidence in my accuser’s own words that prove I was framed to get money, and that I am totally innocent, as I have consistently asserted since the day I was falsely accused,” Dershowitz was quoted as saying.
Prince Andrew has also vehemently denied the allegations.
It is not clear at this point who the other American politicians, business executives and world leaders in the allegations may be.
But what seems clear from the court filings is that they are individuals who were in their cited positions at least prior to 2014.
WATCH: Buckingham Palace issues statement on behalf of Prince Andrew
Why is Epstein only being charged now?
Epstein has been accused of sex trafficking multiple times over the past decade.
He’s a hedge-fund tycoon with a circle of friends and acquaintances that includes prominent individuals and world leaders like Prince Andrew, former U.K. prime minister Tony Blair, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and current U.S. President Donald Trump.
Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to one count of soliciting and procuring a person under the age of 18 for prostitution, according to court documents.
WATCH BELOW: Prosecutors believe Jeffrey Epstein is a ‘significant flight risk’
But he did so as part of a plea deal that also saw him register as a sex offender and pay restitution to three dozen victims.
His arrest on Saturday and the subsequent search warrant executed by American authorities on his New York residence suggest there is new evidence in the claims against him, the Miami Herald reported. Police did not say on Monday what that new information might be but said they were aware of and grateful for investigative reporting on the matter.
WATCH: Attorney for alleged Epstein victims comments on Prince Andrew
While the indictment against Epstein was also unsealed on Monday, it does not name any other individuals who may be involved.
What it does say is that prosecutors allege Epstein sexually exploited dozens of minors between 2002 and 2005, enticing them to come to his mansions in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, for sexual acts, after which he would give them several hundred dollars in cash.
He is also alleged to have “worked and conspired with others” to maintain what prosecutors called his “network of minor victims.”
Prosecutors allege Epstein knew the girls were underage when he recruited them.
It is not clear at this point exactly who else could be implicated in the most recent charges: the indictment states explicitly that three employees of Epstein worked with him to manage and recruit the underage girls, but that he worked with “others known and unknown” to maintain and exploit his network.
The court filings make specific reference to three underage victims who shared their stories with police, saying all of them allege they were paid for sex acts with Epstein himself, and do not mention explicitly any other individuals who may have been involved.
What happens next?
Epstein was formally indicted on Monday and has been returned to jail, where he is being detained.
Prosecutors said on Monday they will ask that he be denied bail, stressing that they consider Epstein to be “a significant flight risk” given his wealth and network of powerful contacts.
WATCH BELOW: FBI says it recovered nude images during execution of Epstein warrant
No decision has been rendered by a judge on that but a denial of bail would mean Epstein stays behind bars until his case goes to trial.
That could take at least a year, likely more.
As well, the unsealed documents from the 2015 defamation case involved Epstein’s partner could be made public shortly.
Two individuals reportedly named in the documents will have two weeks to file an appeal of the unsealing order if they have concerns about their names being made public, but it is not yet clear whether they will do so or who they are.
WATCH: Jeffrey Epstein arrested in New York on sex charges
However, the release of those documents will be a major point to watch in the broader case given the potential they hold to implicate prominent world leaders.
The appeals court took the unusual step of urging caution in its decision to order they be unsealed.
“Our legal process is already susceptible to abuse. Unscrupulous litigants can weaponize the discovery process to humiliate and embarrass their adversaries,” the court wrote.
“Unfortunately, the presumption of public access to court documents has the potential to exacerbate these harms to privacy and reputation by ensuring that damaging material irrevocably enters the public record.”