French modelling agent who founded agency with Jeffrey Epstein dies in custody

Jean-Luc Brunel had been detained since 2020 over sexual assault allegations

Jean-Luc Brunel, right, with Jeffrey Epstein, centre and the financier's girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell, on a private jet. Shutterstock
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Jean-Luc Brunel, a longtime French modelling agent who was detained in December 2020 as part of an inquiry into allegations of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, was found dead in his cell on Saturday, the Paris prosecutor's office said.

The investigation, opened in August 2019, was a preliminary inquiry into whether financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in a US jail, had committed sex crimes on French territory or against French victims.

Brunel, 76, who had founded a US model management company with Epstein, had denied any wrongdoing related to his association with him.

Brunel was found hanged in his cell in the Sante prison in Paris at about 1am on Saturday, a representative for the prosecutor's office said. An investigation has been opened, the representative said

Brunel's death means his case is closed, unless other suspects are implicated in the same case in the future.

He was first detained in December 2020 at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

His lawyers, Mathias Chichportich, Marianne Abgrall and Christophe Ingrain, said his apparent suicide was "not guided by guilt but a profound sense of injustice".

"His tragedy is that of a 75-year-old man crushed by a media-judicial system," they said.

"Brunel had always maintained his innocence and had intensified his efforts to prove it."

The Sante prison in Paris, where Jean-Luc Brunel was found dead in his cell.  EPA.

Allegations in the Epstein case, from women who say they were abused in France, prompted French prosecutors to open their own investigation.

That probe focused on Brunel, who was accused in US court documents of rape and procuring young girls for his friend.

Anne-Claire Le Jeune, lawyer for the plaintiffs, expressed "frustration and bitterness over not being able to obtain justice, just as for the victims of Epstein".

"It took so much courage to be able to speak up, to be heard by the police and the investigating judges. It's quite terrible for the victims", she said.

She added that the victims had the feeling Brunel was "leaving behind a number of secrets".

Brunel began his career as a model scout and in 1978 was involved in setting up the prestigious Karin Models agency. He then moved to the United States where he co-founded the Miami-based agency MC2.

In US court documents, Virginia Giuffre, a key complainant against Epstein, accused him of using her as a "sex slave" and said she had been forced to have sex with well-known politicians and businessmen, including Brunel.

She also alleged Brunel would bring girls as young as 12 to the US and pass them on to friends, including Epstein.

Ms Giuffre on Saturday responded to news of Brunel's death on Twitter.

"The suicide of Jean-Luc Brunel, who abused me and countless girls and young women, ends another chapter," she wrote. "I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to face him in a final trial to hold him accountable, but gratified that I was able to testify in person last year to keep him in prison."

Brunel's death comes days after Queen Elizabeth II's second son Prince Andrew settled the lawsuit brought by Ms Giuffre, sparing him the public humiliation of a trial.

Ms Giuffre has said she had sex with Prince Andrew when she was 17 and a minor under US law, after meeting him through Epstein. The prince, 61, has not been criminally charged and has denied the allegations.

In December, socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, a friend of Epstein and Prince Andrew, was convicted in the US of recruiting and grooming young girls to be sexually abused by Epstein.

Updated: February 20, 2022, 6:56 AM