Victims of a French modelling agent's alleged sexual abuse have expressed shock and dismay after he was found dead in his cell, in an apparent echo of the prison suicide of his close associate, the disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein.
Paris police are investigating the death of Jean-Luc Brunel (75), who had been charged with the rape of minors and was also being held on suspicion of trafficking underage girls for sex, whose body was found in La Santé prison early on Saturday.
Epstein was found dead in his New York jail cell in August 2019 while awaiting trial over the alleged abuse of hundreds of young girls.
Brunel’s death means the case against the agent – who was arrested in December 2020 at Charles de Gaulle airport as part of a French probe launched after US sex-trafficking charges were brought against Epstein – is now closed unless other suspects are identified.
A frequent companion of Epstein, who travelled often to France and had apartments in Paris, Brunel was accused in US court documents of rape and of procuring young girls for his friend and was considered central to the French investigation.
Victims of his alleged trafficking, who were mostly said to have been lured with promises of lucrative modelling contracts, said they were angry that Brunel, like Epstein, would never face trial. Anne-Claire Le Jeune, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, described the news as “quite terrible” for them, adding they felt Brunel had “left behind many secrets”.
Le Jeune expressed the women’s “frustration and bitterness over not being able to obtain justice – just as for the victims of Epstein”, adding that it had taken “so much courage for them to be able to speak up, to be heard by the police”.
Thysia Huisman, a Dutch former model who has said she was drugged and raped by Brunel as a teenager and was one of many women to identify themselves to French police as victims of the agent’s abuse, said she was shocked by the news of his death.
“It makes me angry, because I’ve been fighting for years,” Ms Huisman said. “For me, the end of this was to be in court. And now that whole ending – which would help form closure – is taken away from me. To rebuild yourself, that is an essential step.”
One of Epstein's principal accusers, Virginia Giuffre, who has said the financier once bragged to her that he had slept with more than 1,000 "of Brunel's girls", said she was disappointed by the news of the agent's death.
“The suicide of Jean-Luc Brunel, who abused me and countless girls and young women, ends another chapter,” Ms Giuffre tweeted. “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.”
Ms Giuffre recently accepted an undisclosed sum from Prince Andrew after bringing a civil case against Queen Elizabeth’s second son, with whom she says she had sex when she was 17 – a minor under US law – after being introduced to him through Epstein.
Sigrid McCawley, Ms Giuffre’s lawyer, said the news of Brunel’s death was “devastating”. “For the women who have stood up . . . it is not how these men died, but how they lived, and the damage they caused to so many. The fight to seek truth and justice goes on,” she said.
Brunel's lawyers said his apparent suicide was "not guided by guilt, but a profound sense of injustice". Mathias Chichportich, Marianne Abgrall and Christophe Ingrain said his death was "the tragedy of a 75-year-old man crushed by a media-judicial system. He had always maintained his innocence and had intensified his efforts to prove it."
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 US where he co-founded the Miami-based agency MC2. He is credited with discovering a number of supermodels, including Christy Turlington and Milla Jovovich.
He had been placed under formal investigation for the alleged rape of two minors and for sexual harassment, and also been questioned on suspicion of sex trafficking of underage girls. He denied all charges. – Guardian