PARIS — A former French modeling agent who had been charged with the rape of minors and was suspected of scouting young women for the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead in his Paris jail cell, a spokesman for the Paris prosecutor said on Saturday, in what appeared to be a suicide.
Jean-Luc Brunel, 75, was found hanging overnight in his cell at La Santé, a prison in southern Paris, according to a French official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because an investigation had been opened. Mr. Brunel’s death echoed that of Mr. Epstein, who hanged himself in a Manhattan jail cell in 2019 while awaiting trial.
“His decision was not guided by guilt but by a deep sense of injustice,” his lawyers said in a statement, adding that Mr. Brunel had “never stopped claiming his innocence.”
Mr. Brunel had been charged with raping minors over 15 and sexual harassment, and he was placed in pretrial detention in 2020. He was also under investigation for human trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation, as part of a broader French inquiry into potential offenses committed in France in connection to the Epstein scandal.
His death was the latest in a series of developments in that scandal. This week, Prince Andrew, the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, settled a lawsuit brought by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who accused the British royal of raping her when she was a teenager. In December, Ghislaine Maxwell, Mr. Epstein’s former companion, was convicted of conspiring with him to recruit, groom and sexually abuse underage girls.
Mr. Brunel carved out a successful career as a modeling agent in France in the 1970s, before expanding his portfolio to the United States, where he met and befriended Mr. Epstein. The two often traveled together and socialized in the same circles before having a falling out as the sex-trafficking accusations against Mr. Epstein emerged.
At least one of Mr. Epstein’s accusers has said that Mr. Brunel used his position as a modeling scout to procure minors for Mr. Epstein, who owned an apartment in an upscale Parisian neighborhood and traveled regularly to France.
In filings in a federal court in New York, Ms. Giuffre said that Mr. Brunel would offer modeling jobs to girls — some as young as 12 — and take them to the United States to “farm them out to his friends, especially Epstein.”
But Mr. Brunel has faced direct accusations of abuse himself. Ms. Giuffre said that Mr. Epstein sexually trafficked her to Mr. Brunel on “numerous occasions and in numerous places,” including the south of France, according to court records.
Thysia Huisman, a former Dutch model, accused Mr. Brunel of drugging and raping her in Paris in 1991. In an interview in 2020, she said one day when she was staying with him, he had “harassed” her and “made sexual remarks.”
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She continued, “I think he put something in my drink — 50 minutes later it happened.”
Some of the claims against Mr. Brunel were blocked by statutory time limits for rape cases, which in France is 20 years. But Ms. Huisman, who was aware of the statute of limitations in her case, said she had hoped “to motivate other victims to come forward.”
But the death of Mr. Brunel has put an end to the charges against him.
Anne-Claire Lejeune, a lawyer who represents Ms. Huisman as well as other accusers, told the French news media on Saturday that she was frustrated not “to be able to obtain justice, as was the case for the victims of Epstein.”