Brunel, in his mid-70s, was under investigation for the rape and trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation.
A French modelling agent who was close to disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein was found dead on Saturday in his prison cell in Paris, where he was being held in an investigation into the rape of minors and trafficking of minors for sexual exploitation, according to the Paris prosecutor’s office.
A source close to the investigation speaking on the condition of anonymity told the AFP news agency that Jean-Luc Brunel had been found hanged but this was not confirmed by prosecutors.
Paris police are investigating the death of the agent, Brunel, the prosecutor’s office said.
Brunel was detained at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport in 2020 as part of a broad French probe unleashed by sex-trafficking charges in the US against Epstein. In December, he was charged with the rape of minor girls.
Epstein died by suicide in 2019 in a Manhattan jail while awaiting trial.
“His tragedy is that of a 75-year-old man crushed by a media-judicial system, about which there will now be time to ask questions,” his lawyers, Mathias Chichportich, Marianne Abgrall and Christophe Ingrain said in a statement.
“Jean-Luc Brunel had always maintained his innocence and had intensified his efforts to prove it,” it said, adding that his apparent suicide death was “not guided by guilt but a profound sense of injustice”.
A frequent companion of Epstein, Brunel was considered central to the French investigation into the alleged sexual exploitation of women and girls by the US financier and his circle. Epstein traveled often to France and had apartments in Paris.
Multiple women have identified themselves as victims and spoken to police since the French probe was opened in 2019.
Anne-Claire Le Jeune, lawyer for the plaintiffs, expressed “frustration and bitterness over not being able to obtain justice, just as for the victims of Epstein”.
“It took so much courage to be able to speak up, to be heard by the police and the investigating judges. It’s quite terrible for the victims,” she said.
She added that the victims have the “feeling that he (Brunel) is leaving behind a number of secrets”.
Earlier this week, The United Kingdom’s Prince Andrew agreed to settle a case in which he was accused of sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl trafficked to him by Epstein.
The deal, in which Andrew agreed to make a substantial donation to his accuser’s charity, avoids a trial.