William Barr, the US attorney general, on Monday said he was “appalled” and “angry” over alleged child sex abuser Jeffrey Epstein’s death in custody as new claims emerged about oversights from prison guards.
Epstein, who was found dead in a New York prison cell on Saturday in an apparent suicide, was also alone in his room when he died, according to a senior prison union official, despite procedures that he should have been accompanied by another inmate.
The criticism came as French government ministers demanded that the country's prosecutors launch their own investigation into Epstein, saying the US inquiry had exposed the disgraced financier’s links with France.
Epstein is believed to have visited France frequently, with US authorities saying Epstein had a residence in Paris, described by French sources as a luxury apartment on the Avenue Foch, one of the capital’s most expensive streets, favoured by royalty, celebrities and billionaires.
He also maintained homes in the seaside resorts of Nice and Biarritz, according to the sources.
Epstein, 66, was arrested on July 6 in New Jersey after his private jet landed on a flight from Paris. He was charged with sex trafficking underage girls but died before the case went to trial.
“The American investigation has brought to light links with France,” Marlène Schiappa, the minister for gender equality, and Adrien Taquet, minister for solidarity and health, said in a joint statement.
“It therefore seems to us fundamental, for the victims, that an investigation be opened in France so that everything can be revealed.”
The ministers said Epstein’s death “should not deprive victims of the justice they deserve" and other young girls should be protected from “this kind of predator”.
Questions raised over the circumstances surrounding Epstein's death in federal jail in Lower Manhattan include claims guards failed to carry out checks at stipulated 30-minute intervals after Epstein was taken off suicide watch.
The two relevant guards on duty were also both working overtime, triggering questions about whether workforce shortages in US prisons played a factor.
Without giving detail, Mr Barr said that the “serious irregularities” coming to light at the prison where Epstein was held were “deeply concerning".
He vowed to “get to the bottom of what happened”. Mr Barr also said the Epstein investigation will continue, warning that “any co-conspirators should not rest easy”.
The prison cell Epstein died in reportedly does not have a security camera, unlike the facility’s corridors. Photographs of his body being removed by emergency services emerged on Monday.
Renewed focus has fallen on Ghislaine Maxwell, the British socialite and daughter of publishing tycoon Robert Maxwell, who was a longtime companion of Epstein.
She has been accused by alleged victims of helping Epstein recruit underage girls – something she has previously denied. She has not commented on recent developments.
A source close to Ms Maxwell told The Daily Telegraph: "Ghislaine thought this was all dead and buried when the case was settled in 2017. So she was knocked for six when the Epstein stuff raised its ugly head again.
"She told everyone that it was just a rehash of the same old nonsense. She said that she planned to totally disappear and not say anything. Since then people haven't heard anything from her at all."
Prosecutors in the US are reported to be struggling to locate Ms Maxwell. She has not been in contact with her London lawyers in recent weeks, it is understood.
Ms Maxwell has French as well as US and UK citizenship. Paris prosecutors said they were checking whether a French investigation should be opened.
Jacky Coulon, the national secretary of the union of French magistrates, said there could be legal obstacles to such a move.
“Under French law, a deceased person cannot be prosecuted or sentenced, but if there are accomplices, they could be liable to prosecution,” he said.