A statement by prosecutor Remy Heitz said the decision to open a preliminary investigation was based on "elements transmitted" to his office and "exchanges with American authorities, competent in the so-called Epstein affair."
The investigation involves information regarding minors 15 years old and older, the statement said.
No details were provided about what "elements" led to the probe and whether it might concern in-person testimony from alleged victims of Epstein who had maintained an apartment at a luxury address near the Arc de Triomphe.
Epstein, a magnate who rubbed shoulders with the elite and politically powerful and owned a Caribbean island, killed himself Aug. 10 in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York while awaiting trial on federal sex-trafficking charges. He was 66. Numerous women in the United States have claimed they were sexually abused by Epstein.
Epstein was reported to have links in France, and two French secretaries of state — for women's rights and the protection of children — said this month that an investigation should be opened. The move was met with finger-shaking from the justice minister, who said it amounted to interfering with the judicial system.
The charges being probed in the investigation include rape of minors 15 and older, sexual aggression and criminal association with a view of committing crimes.
The goal of the investigation is to uncover eventual infractions in France as well as on any French victims abroad, the statement said. The investigation would also seek out anyone of French nationality linked to crimes, the statement said.
In France, a preliminary investigation can lead to formal charges and a trial — or be thrown out if evidence doesn't warrant pursuing the case.
Epstein had pleaded not guilty to sexually abusing girls as young as 14 and young women in New York and Florida in the early 2000s.
His lawyers maintained that the charges were nullified by a non-prosecution agreement he reached with the federal government when he pleaded guilty in 2008 to state charges of soliciting a minor for prostitution. He served 13 months in jail, was required to reach financial settlements with dozens of his alleged victims and register as a sex offender.