French prosecutors have opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced American multimillionaire, committed rape or sexual abuse of minors in France.

It came after growing calls for investigators to look into allegations of abuse at the late financier's palatial apartment off the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

"The investigations will focus on potential crimes against French victims committed on national territory as well as abroad, and on perpetrators who are French citizens," said Remy Heitz, a Paris lawyer. Prosecutors will also look into claims that for years Epstein and others had operated a child sex ring.

Epstein was arrested on July 6 in New Jersey after his private jet landed on a flight from Paris, where he had a residence near the Arc de Triomphe.

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He denied US charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of underage girls. He was found hanged at his New York jail cell on Aug 10. This week Innocence in Danger, a French child protection charity, announced it had gathered 10 witness statements alleging sex crimes involving minors in France.

A U.S. flag flies at half staff on a property owned by Jeffrey Epstein in the U. S. Virgin Islands. Photo / AP
A U.S. flag flies at half staff on a property owned by Jeffrey Epstein in the U. S. Virgin Islands. Photo / AP

Not all the victims were French, it said.Investigators may also probe potential links with Jean-Luc Brunel, a former French modelling tycoon now in his 70s and a former close friend of Epstein.

Four years ago, Mr Brunel was cited in a civil lawsuit in which he was accused of procuring young girls for Epstein. In a rare statement, Mr Brunei categorically denied involvement, "directly or indirectly", in Epstein's crimes.

- The Daily Telegraph