US financier pleads not guilty to sex trafficking

He allegedly lured dozens of underage girls to his homes for nude massages

NEW YORK: American financier Jeffrey Epstein pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges of sex trafficking as prosecutors accused him of luring dozens of girls as young as 14 to his luxury homes in New York and Florida and paying them for sex acts.

An indictment unsealed in federal court in Manhattan accused Epstein, 66, of arranging for girls to perform nude "massages" and other sex acts, and paying some girls to recruit others, from at least 2002 to 2005.

"The alleged behaviour shocks the conscience, and while the charged conduct is from a number of years ago, it is still profoundly important to the many alleged victims, now young women," US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said at a press conference.

"They deserve their day in court."

Epstein was known for socialising with politicians and royalty, including US President Donald Trump, former President Bill Clinton and according to court papers, Britain's Prince Andrew.

Epstein entered his plea before US Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman to one count of sex trafficking and one count of sex trafficking conspiracy. He faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted.

According to the indictment, the former hedge fund manager "intentionally sought out minors and knew that many of his victims were in fact under the age of 18, including because, in some instances, minor victims expressly told him their age".

Epstein, who registered as a sex offender under a 2008 plea deal in Florida, has said in earlier court filings that his encounters with alleged victims were consensual and that he believed they were 18 when they occurred.

He will remain in jail until at least July 15, when a judge has scheduled a bail hearing.

Prosecutors have said Epstein should be denied bail, arguing he poses an "extraordinary risk of flight" because of his wealth, private planes and significant international ties.

Epstein was arrested on Saturday night at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey, where he had returned on his private plane from Paris.

Prosecutors said a search of Epstein's mansion in Manhattan uncovered evidence of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of nude photographs of "what appeared to be underage girls".

Mr Berman encouraged other victims to come forward and contact prosecutors. - REUTERS