Dani Garavelli: Why Maxwell’s arrest leaves Prince Andrew in precarious position

The first thing Eric Trump did when he heard socialite Ghislaine Maxwell had been charged with aiding her one-time partner Jeffrey Epstein in the trafficking of underage girls was to tweet a photograph of her at Chelsea Clinton’s wedding with the caption “birds of a feather”. This is the level of cynicism we are dealing with here: the weaponising of sex abuse allegations to take a cheap shot at a political opponent.

Britain's Prince Andrew, Duke of York, arrives to attend a church service at St Mary the Virgin Church in Hillington, Norfolk. Picture Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images

And the level of stupidity too. Because everyone knows Epstein was friends with Eric’s father, Donald. And that, for many years, Ghislaine was Epstein’s shadow. The chances of there not being similarly incriminating photographs of Trump senior were as slim as Eric’s chances of no longer sucking up to El Presidente and making his own way in the world. As it turned out, there were many photos, and, like heat-seeking missiles, those photos found their way onto Twitter. There were photos of Trump and Melania/Epstein and Maxwell – a cosy foursome out on the town. And photos of Trump, Melania and Maxwell – a cosy trio at supermodel Heidi Klum’s now infamous “Hookers and Pimps” party. Eric quickly deleted his tweet. But not quickly enough to prevent his name from trending as thousands pointed out the obvious.

Cynicism and stupidity run through this affair – and indeed throughout the ruling classes of the US and the UK – like faulty genes. Everyone involved with Epstein appears to have been a canape short of a wedding breakfast, wandering through gilded halls and glitzy functions in Florida and New York unaware of what was going on right under their noses. Even as Trump told others: “Epstein likes beautiful women as much as me, and many of them are on the younger side”, he somehow failed to peg him as a wrong’un.

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Look at Prince Andrew too: his interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis, broadcast in November last year, was a pasty-faced study in stupidity. Yes, he had travelled in Epstein’s private plane (nicknamed the Lolita Express). Yes, he had visited his private island (nicknamed Paedophile Island), but no he had “absolutely no indication” of anything amiss. Yes, he had gone to visit Epstein in his New York mansion after Epstein had served a jail sentence for procuring an under-age girl for prostitution. But only so he could make it clear he no longer wanted to visit his New York mansion. Yes, he stayed several days. But no, it wasn’t a party, merely a social gathering. Yes, it was a bit like a railway station with people coming in and out. But, no, that wasn’t him getting a foot massage. The problem with Andrew – Andrew was at pains to point out – is that he is just too “honourable”. Also, he doesn’t sweat much for a frat boy.

Acting US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Audrey Strauss, announces charges against Ghislaine Maxwel during a press conference in New York City. Maxwell, the former girlfriend of late financier Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested in the United States. Picture Johannes Eisele/AFP via Getty Images

So much stupidity, but also cynicism. Asked if he now regretted his friendship with Epstein, he said this: “No, still not, and the reason is that the people I met, the opportunity I was given to learn, either by him or because of him, was actually very useful.”

Aye, that’s how those in positions of power get away with it. So long as those around them are getting what they want, there appears to be no limit to what they’ll turn a blind eye to.

Trump, of “grab ‘em by the pussy” fame, got on fine with Epstein right up until the moment they clashed on a real estate deal. A piece of young meat is one thing; a piece of prime land another. Of course, Trump claims he expelled Epstein from Mar A Lago, his Palm Beach resort, because he tried to take home a member’s 15-year-old daughter. But others say the two locked horns over a property seized in a bankruptcy, trash-talking one another; with Trump eventually outbidding Epstein and securing the property. Even in lives awash with cash, money talks.

It isn’t only in the US that people fail to notice those abusers prone to acts of largesse. When commentators later observe “he was hiding in plain sight” what they really mean is no-one bothered to look. Jimmy Savile did everything but write “I am a paedophile” across the back of his shiny tracksuit top, yet there are photos of him with Margaret Thatcher and many others. Why? Because he was raising all that money for all those charities. It wasn’t that Savile fooled everyone into believing he was a lovely man – he left many of those who met him deeply uncomfortable – it was that too much scrutiny might have put paid to an important source of revenue.

The truth about Savile didn’t fully emerge until that source of revenue came to an end through death. All those victims denied justice. Epstein too evaded justice when he killed himself while in jail awaiting prosecution. Prince Andrew is one of many who may have breathed a sigh of relief. His interview – two months after Epstein’s suicide – was ill-judged, but it resulted in little more than a slinking off into the shadows, and far less public consternation than Prince Harry and Meghan’s decision to move to the US.

We are used to the rich and powerful doing whatever the hell they want; one law for them, another for everyone else. But the law eventually caught up with Harvey Weinstein, who is now serving a 23-year sentence for sexual offences. And now the law has caught up with Maxwell. If she is found guilty on all charges, she faces 35 years in jail.

“Bewildered” as he is over claims he has failed to co-operate with US prosecutors, Prince Andrew must be feeling the heat. In his eagerness to distance himself from Epstein, he stressed his initial friendship was with Maxwell , whom he has known since her university days. Asked why Epstein was once invited to Windsor Castle he said: “But remember it was his girlfriend [Ghislaine] that was the key element in this. He was there as a plus one.” This apparent deflection was counter-productive. Epstein is dead and cannot testify; Maxwell is alive and can. And some sources suggest she may be about to sing like the proverbial canary.

Prince Andrew also told Maitlis: “If there are questions Ghislaine has to answer that’s her problem.” Again, a misjudgement; not only because that lack of solidarity is unlikely to keep her on-side, but also because what Maxwell might or might not say is very much his problem. If there is anyone who knows the truth about Virginia Roberts Giuffre – the woman who claims Epstein forced her to have sex with Prince Andrew when she was a teenager – it will be her.

But Maxwell’s arrest is important for more reasons than what it might mean for Prince Andrew. It’s important because the wealthy and the careless, who attended Epstein’s parties and took whatever was on offer, are only half of this horrible equation. The other half consists of the underage girls who were trafficked and traumatised with and treated like toys. Someone ought to be held to account.