Social media has been rife in recent weeks with speculation that a judge is about to release a list of clients or co-conspirators of Jeffrey Epstein, the jet-setting US financier who killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

The truth is less scandalous – there is no such list.

Some previously sealed court records are indeed going to be made public, but the great majority of the people whose names appear in those documents are not accused of any wrongdoing.

Here is what we know about the documents, at least some of which are expected to be released on Wednesday.

– Who is Jeffrey Epstein?

A millionaire known for associating with celebrities, politicians, billionaires and academic stars, Epstein was initially arrested in Palm Beach, Florida, in 2005 after he was accused of paying a 14-year-old girl for sex.

Dozens of other underage girls described similar sexual abuse, but prosecutors ultimately allowed the financier to plead guilty in 2008 to a charge involving a single victim. He served 13 months in a jail work-release programme.

Some famous acquaintances abandoned Epstein after his conviction, including former presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, but many did not. Epstein continued to mingle with the rich and famous for another decade, often through philanthropic work.

Reporting by the Miami Herald renewed interest in the scandal, and federal prosecutors in New York charged Epstein in 2019 with sex trafficking. He killed himself in prison while awaiting trial.

Jeffrey EpsteinGhislaine Maxwell was convicted in 2021 and is serving a 20-year prison term (John Minchillo/AP)

The US attorney in Manhattan then prosecuted Epstein’s former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, for helping recruit his underage victims. She was convicted in 2021 and is serving a 20-year prison term.

– What are these records about?

The documents being unsealed are part of a lawsuit filed against Maxwell in 2015 by one of Epstein’s victims, Virginia Giuffre. She is one of the dozens of women who sued Epstein, saying he had abused them at his homes in Florida, New York, the US Virgin Islands and New Mexico.

Ms Giuffre said that in the summer she turned 17, she was lured away from a job as a spa attendant at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club to become a “masseuse” for Epstein – a job that involved performing sexual acts.

Ms Giuffre also claimed she was pressured into having sex with men in Epstein’s social orbit, most famously with the Duke of York. All of those men said her accounts were fabricated.

She settled a lawsuit against the duke in 2022. That same year, Ms Giuffre withdrew an accusation she had made against Epstein’s former attorney, the law professor Alan Dershowitz, saying she “may have made a mistake” in identifying him as an abuser.

Ms Giuffre’s lawsuit against Maxwell was settled in 2017, but the Miami Herald went to court to access court papers initially filed under seal, including transcripts of interviews the lawyers carried out with potential witnesses.

About 2,000 pages were unsealed by a court in 2019. Additional documents were released in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Jeffrey EpsteinVirginia Giuffre is one of the dozens of women who sued Epstein (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

This next batch of records had remained sealed because of concerns about the privacy rights of Epstein’s victims and other people whose names had come up during the legal battle but were not complicit in his crimes.

– What can we expect to see?

US District Judge Loretta A. Preska, who evaluated the documents to decide what should be unsealed, said in her December order that she was releasing the records because much of the information within them is already public.

Some records have been released, either in part or in full, in other court cases. Much of the rest involve topics and people who have been exhaustively covered in nearly two decades of newspaper stories, TV documentaries, interviews, books and evidence at Maxwell’s criminal trial.

The people named in the records include many of Epstein’s accusers, members of his staff who told their stories to tabloid newspapers, people who served as witnesses at Maxwell’s trial, people who were mentioned in passing during depositions but are not accused of any wrongdoing, and people who investigated Epstein, including prosecutors, a journalist and a detective.

There are also names of public figures known to have associated with Epstein over the years, but whose relationships with him have already been well-documented elsewhere, the judge said.

One of them is Jean-Luc Brunel, a French modelling agent close to Epstein who was awaiting trial on charges that he raped underage girls when he killed himself in a Paris jail in 2022. Ms Giuffre was among the women who had accused Brunel of sexual abuse.

Mr Clinton and Mr Trump both factor in the court file, partly because Ms Giuffre was questioned by Maxwell’s lawyers about inaccuracies in newspaper stories about her time with Epstein.

One story quoted her as saying she had travelled in a helicopter with Mr Clinton and flirted with Mr Trump. Ms Giuffre said neither of those things actually happened. She has not accused either former president of wrongdoing.

The judge said a handful of names should remain blacked out in the documents because they would identify people who were sexually abused.

– When will the documents be made public?

On December 18, the judge gave the people whose names appear in the records 14 days to appeal, then directed the lawyers to confer, prepare the documents for unsealing and post them on the docket.

One woman whose name appears in the records has already been given 30 more days to make arguments to the court as to why her name should stay redacted.

Edward Friedland, the district court’s top executive, said parties in the case would begin posting some of the sealed documents publicly on Wednesday.