US government and FBI launched probes as politicians, law enforcement officials and alleged victims expressed shock that Epstein could take his own life when a reported failed suicide attempt 2 weeks ago meant he should have been under close watch.

US financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019.
US financier Jeffrey Epstein appears in a photograph taken for the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services' sex offender registry March 28, 2017 and obtained by Reuters July 10, 2019. (Reuters)

US financier Jeffrey Epstein, awaiting trial on charges he trafficked underage girls for sex, was found dead in jail  Saturday from an apparent suicide, triggering outcry over how the high-profile detainee could die in custody.

The government and FBI immediately launched probes as politicians, law enforcement officials and alleged victims expressed shock that Epstein could take his own life when a reported failed suicide attempt two weeks ago meant he should have been under close watch.

Epstein, a convicted paedophile who befriended numerous politicians and celebrities over the years, was found unresponsive around 6:30 am (1030 GMT) at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York from "an apparent suicide," the US Department of Justice said. 

He was pronounced dead at a hospital.

William Denselow has more.

US Attorney General Bill Barr said he was "appalled" to learn of Epstein's death and instructed the Justice Department's inspector general to probe the circumstances. 

"Mr Epstein's death raises serious questions that must be answered," Barr said in a statement.

The FBI is also investigating, the Justice Department said.

The New York Times and other media reported Epstein hanged himself. The city medical examiner's office confirmed Epstein's death but not the cause.

The 66-year-old had been found unconscious in his cell last month with marks on his neck.

His death came one day after a New York court released a tranche of sealed legal documents, providing new details about what prosecutors allege was Epstein's sex-trafficking operation.

Epstein last appeared in court on July 31 when a judge told him that his trial wouldn't begin before next June.

'We need answers' 

The wealthy hedge fund manager had been charged with one count of sex trafficking of minors and one count of conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors. 

Epstein, who denied the charges, had faced up to 45 years in prison -- effectively the rest of his life -- if convicted. 

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal facility in Manhattan that often houses suspects awaiting or during trial, is considered one of the most secure penal establishments in the US. 

Infamous Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman spent more than two years there.

"We need answers. Lots of them," tweeted New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who heads the Senate's judiciary oversight committee, said the government had failed Epstein's alleged victims "yet again."

The two thousand pages of previously sealed court documents released Friday focused on testimony by a woman who claimed she was Epstein's "sex slave."

Virginia Giuffre, now an adult, claimed she was forced to have sex with well-known American political and business personalities. They have all denied the allegations.


'No closure' 

Prosecutors said Epstein sexually exploited dozens of underage girls, some as young as 14, at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005.

They claimed that Epstein was "well aware that many of the victims were minors."

The young women were paid hundreds of dollars in cash to massage him, perform sexual acts and to recruit other girls, prosecutors alleged.

Epstein allegedly had an army of recruiters, often not much older than their targets, who would approach vulnerable teens.

Epstein is also accused of paying off possible co-conspirators to "influence" them, US media have reported.

Epstein, whose friends included President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew, was convicted previously of paying young girls for sexual massages at his Palm Beach mansion.

They have all denied knowing anything about his alleged crimes.

Epstein avoided federal prosecution when facing the charges in Florida a decade ago.

Under a secret plea deal negotiated by former US labour secretary Alex Acosta, at that time a federal prosecutor in Florida, Epstein admitted to a single state charge of soliciting prostitution from a minor and registered as a sex offender. 

He served 13 months in a county jail before being released. Acosta resigned last month amid a backlash over the deal.

Lisa Bloom, an attorney for two of Epstein's alleged victims, tweeted a message sent to her by one of the women Saturday, saying that because Epstein won't be convicted, she will "never have a sense of closure."

"You stole from us the huge piece of healing that we needed to move on with our lives," the woman said.

But Manhattan federal prosecutor Geoffrey Berman said that while Epstein's apparent suicide was a "yet another hurdle" in delivering justice to his alleged victims, the court case -- which included a conspiracy charge -- would continue to play out.

Source: AFP