Jeffrey Epstein, centre, in court in Florida in 2008. A controversial plea deal allowed him to avoid more serious sex charges.Photo / AP

The FBI and the Justice Department's inspector general's office will investigate how Jeffrey Epstein died in an apparent suicide yesterday while the probe into sexual abuse allegations against the well-connected financier remains ongoing, officials say.

Epstein, accused of orchestrating a sex-trafficking ring and sexually abusing dozens of underage girls, had been taken off suicide watch before he apparently killed himself in a New York jail, a source said.

Attorney General William Barr, in announcing the investigation, said he was "appalled" to learn of Epstein's death in federal custody.

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

Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell yesterday morning at the Metropolitan Correctional Centre, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He was pronounced dead at New York Presbyterian-Lower Manhattan Hospital.

Epstein, 66, had been denied bail and faced up to 45 years behind bars on federal sex trafficking and conspiracy charges unsealed last month. He had pleaded not guilty and was awaiting trial.

The federal investigation into the allegations remained steadfast, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. He noted in a statement yesterday the indictment against Epstein included a conspiracy charge, suggesting others could face charges in the case.

Epstein had been placed on suicide watch and given daily psychiatric evaluations after an incident two weeks ago in which he was found with bruising on his neck, but was taken off at the end of July, according to a source.

The Bureau of Prisons confirmed he had been housed in the jail's Special Housing Unit, a heavily secured area that separates high-profile inmates and, until recently, home to the Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, now serving life at the Supermax prison in Colorado.

Ben Sasse, a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote in a scathing letter to Barr that "heads must roll" after the incident.

An attorney for Epstein, Marc Fernich, said jailers failed to protect Epstein and prevent the "calamity" of his death and he had "long since paid his debt to society" for his crimes.

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Epstein's arrest last month launched separate investigations into how authorities handled his case when similar charges were first brought against him in Florida more than a

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Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)

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Youthline: 0800 376 633

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Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

Samaritans 0800 726 666

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.decade ago.

- AP