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The former boss of a French modeling agency accused of rape and indicted for providing underage girls to the late American financier Jeffrey Epstein has been found dead in prison.

The body of Jean-Luc Brunel, 75, was found hanged in his cell in the early hours of Saturday. The French prosecutors office confirmed the report and said an investigation had been opened into the exact cause of death, but early indications pointed to a suicide.

Brunel was arrested in December 2020 at Charles de Gaulle airport before boarding a plane to Dakar in Senegal where he told police he was going on vacation.

He was formally investigated over allegations of the alleged rape of a minor and sexual harassment shortly after his arrest, and was re-investigated for the rape of a minor in June of l ‘last year.

Investigators also questioned Brunel on suspicion of trafficking underage girls for sexual exploitation. He was in pre-trial detention at the Santé prison in Paris.

Several top models had come forward to accuse him of sexual assault and rape, and French police reportedly interviewed hundreds of potential witnesses. Brunel had denied any wrongdoing or involvement in illegal activities. He disappeared from public life shortly after Epstein’s death in August 2019. Epstein also hanged himself in his jail cell while awaiting trial.

In the 1990s, Paris-born Brunel was a model scout and patroness of the prestigious Karin Models agency. After being banned from the agency in Europe in 1999 following an undercover BBC report on abuse in the fashion industry, he moved to the United States and founded MC2 Model Management with a funding from Epstein. He is credited with discovering a number of models, including Christy Turlington and Milla Jovovich.

He met Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein’s partner, in the 1980s and she introduced him to Epstein.

Brunel was released on bail last November but was ordered back to jail after a few days to await trial.

His legal team said in a statement: “His distress was that of a 75-year-old man caught up in a media justice system that we should question. Jean-Luc Brunel never ceased to proclaim his innocence and had done many efforts to prove it. [to end his life] was not motivated by guilt but by a deep sense of injustice.

In 2015, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who recently accepted an undisclosed sum from Prince Andrew – another friend of Epstein – after filing a civil suit against the royal, accused Brunel of providing girls for Epstein. She said the American financier had bragged to her that he had slept with more than 1,000 of “Brunel’s daughters”.

Giuffre, who was abused by Epstein, had claimed to have had sex with Prince Andrew three times, the first of which when she was 17. The prince had denied his claims.

Maxwell, 59, is currently in prison in the United States, after being convicted of sex trafficking.

French prosecutors have said Brunel’s death will end the court case unless other suspects are investigated.

In the UK and Ireland, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. In Australia, the Lifeline crisis helpline is 13 11 14. Other international helplines are available at www.befrienders.org.

In the UK, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) offers support for adult survivors on 0808 801 0331. In the US, Rainn offers support for survivors of sexual abuse or assault on 800-656 -4673. In Australia, support is available at 1-800-RESPECT or other locations listed here.

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