French modeling agent Jean-Luc Brunel, who knew Jeffrey Epstein, is detained

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PARIS/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jean-Luc Brunel, a longtime French modeling agent who knew the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, has been taken into custody by French authorities, the Paris prosecutor's office said on Thursday.

Brunel, 74, was detained on Wednesday as part of a probe opened last year into allegations of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment, the office said.

He was arrested at Charles de Gaulle Airport before boarding a plane to the Ivory Coast, according to several French media reports.

Brunel has previously denied wrongdoing related to his association with Epstein.

A lawyer for Brunel and her law firm did not immediately respond to requests for comment outside business hours.

Epstein killed himself in a Manhattan jail at age 66 in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Brunel co-founded the Karin Models agency in the 1990s, and founded MC2 Model Management in the United States with Epstein.

In August 2019, Paris' chief prosecutor opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Epstein committed sex crimes on French territory or against French girls.

Investigators searched Karin's premises in Paris the next month, and French media quoted Brunel's lawyer in October 2019 as saying her client would be ready to cooperate with police.

Brunel was taken into custody 5-1/2 months after U.S. authorities arrested Ghislaine Maxwell, a former Epstein associate.

Maxwell has pleaded not guilty to helping Epstein recruit and groom underage girls for sex in the mid-1990s.

She has been held in a Brooklyn jail since July, and this week proposed a $28.5 million bail package, which U.S. prosecutors are expected to oppose.

In a court filing, Virginia Giuffre, one of Epstein's and Maxwell's accusers, claimed Brunel would offer modeling work to young girls, and take girls as young as 12 to the United States so he could "farm them out to his friends, especially Epstein."

Giuffre also claimed that Brunel was among several prominent men Maxwell directed her to have sex with, court papers show.

Brunel had sued Epstein in 2015, claiming that the financier's earlier legal troubles had unfairly embroiled him and damaged his modeling agency’s reputation.

(Reporting by Matthieu Protard and Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Grant McCool and Christopher Cushing)