Epstein, Maxwell and the still-untouchable web of the 1%

Epstein, Maxwell and the still-untouchable web of the 1%
With the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell underway, many have wondered how Epstein and Maxwell were able to avoid accountability for their crimes for so long, but the rich and powerful have always been untouchable, writes Richard Sudan.
6 min read
20 Dec, 2021
Newly released photos appear to show Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell at the Queen's residence at Balmoral in Scotland. [US District Court for the Southern District of New York/AFP via Getty Images]

The trial of Ghislaine Maxwell, who is facing numerous charges related to her alleged role in facilitating the trafficking of girls to disgraced paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, is underway. 

Regardless of how the case eventually concludes, this controversy has revealed several takeaways about the dynamics of privilege, power and race, which are inseparable from this horror story linking a class of incredibly rich and influential individuals to one of the most prolific sex offenders in history. These are no ordinary times and this is no ordinary trial. 

We might never know exactly how far the house of cards stretches. As the saying goes, ‘dead men tell no tales’. Epstein died in a New York jail cell in 2019 before facing trial for a number of charges, which would have seen him face significant jail time upon conviction. The lid on that particular Pandora's box, however, may never be fully lifted. 

But the fact remains that Epstein was able to carry out these alleged crimes for a number of decades without any accountability. It’s suggested that Epstein’s behaviour was an open secret in the world of the supremely powerful. It has been previously claimed that a prosecutor who tried to build a case against Epstein years ago was told to back off and leave Epstein alone because he was “intelligence”.

"Epstein and Maxwell were able to operate in plain sight, fully confident that the weight of the system would never come crashing down on their heads"

In 2008, Epstein was convicted on charges of procuring a child for prostitution, and served 13 months in a private prison wing where he was allowed to leave jail on a lenient work release program. Essentially, Epstein received a slap on the wrist, and only faced a few charges although his crimes are alleged to be much worse. 

Epstein and Maxwell were able to operate in plain sight, fully confident that the weight of the system would never come crashing down on their heads. Why? Because the uncomfortable truth is that these individuals are the system, so close were their ties to the establishment. 

Their links to the world rich and powerful stretched around the globe, embroiling politicians, the super elite and even members of the British Royal Family

In the now infamous photo, the UK’s Prince Andrew stands with his arm around one of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre (formerly Roberts), while Maxwell smiles beside them. Reportedly taken in London in the early 2000’s, Epstein is thought to be the photographer. Prince Andrew claims he recalls no such photo being taken and has questioned its authenticity.  

For millions, Prince Andrew’s denial of any wrongdoing in a car-crash interview he conducted with the BBC in 2019 was less than convincing. In fact, one of Roberts’ lawyers has claimed that Prince Andrew’s denial of any wrongdoing is so at odds with the photographic evidence that his account constitutes an admission of guilt. 

Just last week during Maxwell’s trial, a new photo emerged seemingly showing both Maxwell and Epstein relaxing at the Queen’s private residence at Balmoral in Scotland. A revelation like this should justifiably lead to mass outrage. However, judging by the media coverage thus far, and considering its potential significance, it seems to have barely scratched the headlines. There are certainly no mass protests outside Buckingham Palace or the like. 

These are just a few of the many well-documented examples of Maxwell and Epstein’s entanglement with the highest echelons of power. We can only imagine what else might have transpired that we have yet to learn. Who knows what other pieces of information may emerge in the coming days and weeks? 

The list of powerful individuals who visited Epstein’s private island in the Caribbean, known informally as “Paedophile Island”, and travelled on his private jet over the years is extensive. The names are well-known. There is still not enough to suggest that each and every one of them is guilty of wrongdoing, and only time will tell. 


However, the idea that none of them have anything to answer for, and the suggestion that has been put forward by many that they were sublimely ignorant of Epstein’s activities, is borderline absurd. They knew. The rich and powerful simply believed Epstein and his circle to be untouchable. This has always been the case for those at the top of society. 

Epstein was a white billionaire who rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential figures in the world, and got away with ruining countless lives because of a two-tier system which favours white, privileged powerful men. This same privilege showed itself when a mob of Trump supporters smashed the walls of the US Capitol building on January 6th of this year, many of whom are yet to be held accountable. The US justice system is far from colour-blind. 

The current trial of Maxwell is, by proxy, a trial of Epstein. Naturally, Maxwell and her lawyers are doing everything they can to distance her from Epstein, no doubt presenting her as simply a scapegoat for his crimes and abuses. 

The official version of events is that Epstein killed himself before facing trial in 2019. Many seriously doubt this version of events, contending that Epstein was murdered by those trying to avoid implication in his crimes. Epstein was supposed to be on suicide watch.  Someone needs to be held to account.

"Do we really imagine that, if Epstein were not a rich white man manoeuvring among the most powerful class of people in the world, he would have evaded accountability for so long? "

Instead, Epstein will never have to face the courtroom, and his victims have been denied any measure of justice. 

This is the crux of it. The entire Epstein saga encapsulates at once how power, privilege and race work in 2021. It's one rule for the elite, and one rule for everybody else. Do we really imagine that, if Epstein were not a rich white man manoeuvring among the most powerful class of people in the world, he would have evaded accountability for so long?  Not a chance.   

Epstein, Maxwell and their associates operate in a space where the world is their playground, and the lives of others amount to little more than sport and amusement.  Put simply, they are protected by their power and complexion.

Richard Sudan is a journalist and writer specialising in anti-racism and has reported on various human rights issues from around the world. His writing has been published by The Guardian, Independent, The Voice and many others.

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.