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Jeffrey Epstein.—AFP
Jeffrey Epstein.—AFP

NEW YORK: Disgraced US financier Jeffrey Epstein has committed suicide in prison while awaiting trial on charges that he trafficked girls as young as 14 for sex, US news media reported on Saturday.

Epstein, a convicted sex offender who befriended numerous politicians and celebrities over the years, hanged himself in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, The New York Times and other media said, quoting officials.

His body was found around 7:30am on Saturday and taken to a hospital in New York, added the reports.

The city medical examiner’s office confirmed Epstein’s death but said nothing about what caused it or the time of death. It said a medical investigation has been opened.

The 66-year-old’s death comes just over two weeks after he was found unconscious in his cell with marks on his neck after an apparent suicide attempt.

Epstein did not appear to be showing any visible signs of injuries when he appeared in court on July 31 following that incident, to be told that his trial wouldn’t begin before June next year.

The 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.

He was denied bail last month in a New York court because he was deemed a flight risk.

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

The Metropolitan Correction Centre, a federal facility in Manhattan that is often used to house suspects awaiting or during trial, is considered one of the most secure penal establishments in the US.

The infamous Mexican drug trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman spent more than two years there before being convicted and transferred to a federal prison in Colorado.

Epstein’s death quickly raised questions about how he could take his own life despite reportedly being put on suicide watch after his first failed attempt.

“We need answers. Lots of them,” tweeted New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

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

They claim that Epstein was “well aware that many of the victims were minors.” The girls were paid hundreds of dollars in cash to massage him, perform sexual acts and to recruit other girls, prosecutors allege.

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

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2019