New York: US financier Jeffrey Epstein, awaiting trial on charges he trafficked underage girls for sex, was found dead in jail Saturday of 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 recently reported suicide attempt meant he should have been under close watch.
Epstein, a convicted paedophile who befriended numerous politicians and celebrities over the years, was found unresponsive in his cell 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.
US Attorney General Bill Barr said he was "appalled" 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.
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 did not confirm the cause of death.
On 23 July, the 66-year-old was found unconscious with marks on his neck. He was put on suicide watch for six days before being returned to his cell in a high-security part of the jail, the New York Times reported.
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.
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 the 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 as an inmate.
"We need answers. Lots of them," tweeted New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
We need answers. Lots of them.https://t.co/4DMckiZnVB
" Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) August 10, 2019
Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH ? Yeah right! How does that happen#JefferyEpstein had information on Bill Clinton & now he's dead
I see #TrumpBodyCount trending but we know who did this!
" Terrence K. Williams (@w_terrence) August 10, 2019
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.