World

Rage, conspiracy theories over Jeffrey Epstein’s death in jail

US lawmakers push for answers over sex trafficker's apparent suicide

NEW YORK Outrage and intrigue over the apparent suicide in prison of well-connected accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein soared on Sunday as US lawmakers pushed for answers, including whether "criminal acts" played a role in his death.

Epstein, a sex offender who hobnobbed with politicians and celebrities, was found dead in his cell on Saturday while awaiting trial on federal charges he trafficked underage girls for sex.

The discovery came a day after a court released documents in which one of Epstein's alleged victims claimed she was forced to have sex with US political and business personalities. They have denied the allegations.

Last month, he was found unconscious with marks on his neck. He was put on suicide watch for six days before being returned to his cell, The New York Times reported.

Epstein's death in a high-security New York prison, just weeks after an earlier possible attempt on his own life, meant he should have been under close watch, and has fuelled anger and a conspiracy theory frenzy.

"The Federal Bureau of Prisons must provide answers on what systemic failures of the MCC (Metropolitan Correctional Centre) in Manhattan - or criminal acts - allowed this coward to deny justice to his victims," said Florida Senator Rick Scott, a Republican.

US Attorney-General Bill Barr has instructed the Justice Department's inspector general to probe Epstein's death. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is also investigating.

The Times reported on Sunday that guards were supposed to check Epstein every half hour but that procedure was not followed the night before he was found, citing an unnamed law enforcement official. The jail had also transferred his cellmate, leaving him alone, it said, citing two officials.

Epstein, 66, had been charged with sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to commit sex trafficking of minors.

Prosecutors said he sexually exploited underage teens at his homes in Manhattan and Palm Beach, Florida, between 2002 and 2005. The girls were paid to massage him, perform sexual acts and recruit other girls, they alleged.

Epstein - whose friends included US President Donald Trump, former president Bill Clinton and Britain's Prince Andrew - had been convicted in 2008 in a Florida court of paying girls for sexual massages at his Palm Beach home.Those men have denied knowing anything about Epstein's alleged crimes.

Epstein served just 13 months under a secret plea deal struck with the then federal prosecutor Alex Acosta, who was forced to resign as US labour secretary last month over the issue.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: "Some of wealthiest people in the world committed a horrible crime. If they think for a second that they got away with it because Jeffrey Epstein is dead, they're dead wrong."

Mr Trump on Saturday retweeted a conspiracy theory alleging - without any evidence - that Mr Clinton may be connected to Epstein's death.

"This is another example of our president using this position of public trust to attack his political enemies with unfounded conspiracy theories," Mr Beto O'Rourke, a Democratic presidential hopeful, told CNN. - AFP

WORLD