NEW YORK, Jan 16 — The late disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused and trafficked girls as young as 12 on his private Caribbean island until as recently as last year, a new lawsuit alleged yesterday.

The suit, filed on behalf of the US Virgin Islands government and which sues Epstein's estate for damages, sheds new light on the extent of the 66-year-old's alleged criminal behavior.

Epstein, who killed himself last summer in a high-security New York jail while awaiting trial for sex crimes, raped and held captive dozens of women on Little Saint James island, according to the civil action.

The suit, filed by Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George, accuses Epstein of bringing girls between the ages of 12 and 17 to his 577-million-dollar estate by boat, helicopter and plane between 2001 and 2019.

He also kept a computerised list of potential victims, prosecutors allege, and ran a “trafficking pyramid scheme” whereby underage victims were forced to recruit other women to perform sexual acts.

“Jeffrey Epstein carried out an expansive scheme of human trafficking and sexual abuse of young women,” George told a press conference.

In July, prosecutors charged Epstein with one count of sex trafficking of minors and another of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors in New York and Florida.

The charges were related to crimes allegedly committed between 2002 and 2005.

Yesterday's suit says that air traffic controllers in the Virgin Islands saw Epstein leave his private plane with girls who looked 11 years old in 2018.

That year he also refused investigators checking up on the registered sex offender entry to his island and instead met them at his office.

The lawsuit records that a 15-year-old girl who was forced to engage in sex acts with Epstein and others once tried to flee his island by swimming but was caught and held captive.

His victims included aspiring models from South America, the documents showed.

Epstein, a wealthy hedge fund manager who befriended countless celebrities including Britain's Prince Andrew, was found dead in New York's Metropolitan Correctional Centre on August 10.

Two prison guards have been charged over their alleged failure to monitor him.

Epstein's death fuelled several conspiracy theories, mostly speculating that he had been murdered to stop him from revealing compromising information about some of his wealthy acquaintances.

Prosecutors are investigating any possible co-conspirators in his alleged crimes, including British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, who has been accused of involvement by several women.

Epstein was convicted in Florida in 2008 of paying young girls for massages but served just 13 months in jail under a secret plea deal struck with the then state prosecutor.

Dozens of women have come forward to say they were abused by him and several have sued his estate for damages. — AFP