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French police ratchet up evidence search in Epstein probe

PARIS – French police launched a fresh appeal Friday for witnesses and victims to come forward to aid their probe of Jeffrey Epstein and allegations that one of the financier’s associates drugged and raped young models.

The appeal was longer and more detailed than a previous, more limited call for evidence that police had made previously on Facebook and Twitter on Sept. 11.

“Given the complexity of the case and its international implications, we are once again asking victims and witnesses to come forward,” said the new appeal, this time translated by the police into English.

It said police “are mobilized and ready to receive statements from victims and witnesses of sexual harassment or assault” and urged “anyone with information to come forward, regardless of when the incident occurred, what the circumstances were and who was involved.”

The amplified appeal came after women who say they were raped and sexually assaulted by one of Epstein’s associates, French modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, had this week told The Associated Press they were disappointed with the limited scope of police efforts to track down witnesses.

Brunel has denied wrongdoing and has said via his lawyer he is willing to talk to investigators. The new appeal, as was also the case in September, does not name Brunel, instead saying that police are investigating “the conduct of Jeffrey Epstein and his connections.”

One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has alleged that Brunel procured women, some of them minors, for sex with Epstein and other people, luring them with promises of modeling work.

Police commissioner Philippe Guichard, whose office is leading the probe, acknowledged in an AP interview Friday that their September appeal for witnesses, worded only in French, had had limited impact.

“The witnesses and the victims tell us that they had trouble identifying us and finding the number and reaching us to give evidence,” he said.

He insisted that his Central Bureau for Violent Crime is “completely invested” in the probe and hopes to reach anyone with knowledge of crimes committed either in France or abroad by French people.

He said the evidence search had been hampered by a reluctance to talk in the “closed world” of modeling.

“We imagine that potential victims don’t want to speak, to report crimes, because they must feel that, ‘If I say something, will I keep my job?’” he said.

The French probe was launched in August after Epstein took his life while awaiting trial on sex-trafficking charges. So far, police have questioned eight alleged victims of rape and other abuse, and four other people who say they were witnesses, and have more hearings scheduled.

Thysia Huisman, one of the women who has told police she was drugged and raped by Brunel in 1991 at age 18, welcomed the amplified search for witnesses. She’d been among those who this week had told the AP that police needed to do more.

“That’s great,” she told the AP on Friday, adding that the September appeal, “on Twitter in French, once, is not enough to make people come forward.”

She said the use of English in the latest appeal might help reach models and former models who travel frequently and who likely don’t speak French.

“Let’s wait and see what happens,” she said. “I hope it is going to change something.”

Police have also sought to spread the word internationally by turning to a non-governmental group, ECPAT, that fights the sexual exploitation of children.

ECPAT translated a detailed explanation of the probe into English, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese and shared it internally with members of its worldwide network, with a request that they then relay the call for witnesses.