Norway’s foreign ministry has joined those questioning the ties that one of its most well-known former diplomats, Terje Rød-Larsen, had to disgraced financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The ministry funded Rød-Larsen’s New York-based think tank for years, and now that’s also being examined by Norway’s state auditor general.
The controversy swirling around Rød-Larsen follows a series of articles by newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that have reported how Epstein, known for cultivating networks involving the rich and powerful, also was involved with Rød-Larsen’s New York-based International Peace Institute (IPI) over the years, both financially and on a project basis. The billionaire Epstein committed suicide last year after being arrested once again, on charges of human trafficking and sexual assaults on underage women, and many who once associated with him including Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit have since tried to distance themselves from him.
On Thursday, DN reported that Rød-Larsen not only visited Epstein’s mansion in New York at least 20 times, worked with Epstein on projects that also involved two former Norwegian prime ministers, and authorized an IPI payment of USD 100,000 to Epstein. Rød-Larsen, once a Labour Party politician in Norway, also owed Epstein USD 130,000 himself, according to a promissory note date July 1, 2013. DN obtained and published a copy of the loan document this week that commits “Terje Roed-Larsen” to “unconditionally promise to pay to the order of Jeffrey E Epstein, a resident of the United States Virgin Islands, the principal amount of USD 130,000 … for value received.” There were no details about what that “value received” was, and Rød-Larsen has maintained a wall of silence, flatly refusing DN‘s interview requests.
After repeated attempts for a response to questions about Rød-Larsen’s debt to Epstein and to Epstein’s role at IPI, the think tank’s communication’s division finally sent a brief response claiming that IPI never did pay Epstein the USD 100,000 that Rød-Larsen had authorized it to pay, or made any other payments to Epstein. IPI’s staff further claimed that the promissory note obligating Rød-Larsen to pay USD 130,000 to Epstein had nothing to do with IPI’s previous or current activities.
Awkward for Norway’s foreign ministry
It’s all put Norway’s foreign ministry in an awkward position, because it has dispersed around NOK 130 million to IPI over a period of many years and because Rød-Larsen’s wife is top Norwegian diplomat Mona Juul. She currently serves as Norway’s ambassador to the United Nations, where Rød-Larsen himself also has served in high-ranking positions.
IPI has also been involved in reform processes at the UN. The Norwegian government has supported Rød-Larsen’s work over the years on the grounds it was aimed at strengthening the UN, Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide told DN in January, and she also said IPI had delivered financial reports followed obligations tied to its funding from Norwegian taxpayers.
The ministry’s funding ceased in 2018, when Juul was transferred from her former post as Norway’s ambassador to the UK in London to take over as UN ambassador in New York and help lead Norway’s successful effort to win a seat on the UN Security Council. Juul and Rød-Larsen continue to maintain a home in Oslo’s fashionable Frogner district but they also share the lavish residence in New York that’s provided for Norway’s UN ambassador.
Now the foreign ministry wants answers to many of the same questions posed by DN, as do several Members of Parliament. Norwegian authorities want more insight into how IPI has been run and about Rød-Larsen’s relations with Epstein.
“This is a case for IPI’s board,” Trude Måseide, communications chief for Norway’s foreign ministry told DN late Thursday. “The ministry thinks it’s important that IPI’s board clarifies this case, especially in terms of its own ethical regulations.”
Måseide noted how Foreign Minister Søreide of the Conservative Party had sought more openness from Rød-Larsen and IPI already in January, after DN had reported that IPI had received cash gifts from Epstein or that had been arranged through Epstein. Søreide’s predecessors from the Labour Party, Jonas Gahr-Støre and Espen Barth Eide, had also wanted more information about IPI’s finances during their terms as foreign minister.
“The ministry hasn’t granted any funding to IPI since 2018,” Måseide confirmed, “nor do we have any intention of granting further support as of now. Depending on how IPI’s board handes this case, the ministry will have to conduct an overall evaluation of its partnership with IPI, before the ministry will handle any new applications for aid.”
Payments to former prime ministers
IPI’s board is led by Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia. DN reported that Rudd himself was also involved, along with former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers in a project that advised the leaders of Mongolia on issues of regional and global peace and security. Mongolian authorities reportedly paid each of the men USD 100,000 for their work, although an email obtained by DN indicates that Rudd forfeited his payment, prompting Rød-Larsen to write in an internal IPI message that it “should be sent to Jeff (Epstein)” instead. Bondevik confirms receiving payment for his consulting services to Mongolia, but couldn’t recall whether Epstein was involved. Summers, who reportedly had extensive ties of his own to Epstein, refused to answer DN‘s questions about his IPI work, payment or Epstein’s involvement.
Rudd has not responded to DN‘s inquiries either, but may feel obliged to respond to Norway’s foreign ministry. Several MP want answers, too, and don’t seem supportive of IPI any longer.
“Rød-Larsen himself must answer for his economic activity, but Norway should cut all support to this think tank,” MP Hans Andreas Limi of the Progress Party told DN, “both because of potential conflicts of interests and mixing up roles, and because he (Rød-Larsen) was highly uncritical of his donors. Norway is not well-served being tied to his network.” Limi also thinks the foreign ministry hasn’t handled the controversy well either.
Trine Skei Grande, a former government minister herself, criticized how Rød-Larsen has refused to answer questions. “It’s important that foundations and others who receive state support are open about their own economy and relations that can be relevant for evaluations of state budget allocations,” Grande told DN. “A president of an organization that refuses to answer questions from the Norwegian press is not contributing to such openness.”
MP Michael Tetzschner of the Conservatives said DN‘s reports have revealed “disturbing ties that can be of an unprofessional nature.” MP Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Socialist Left party, says he expects the foreign ministry to take the criticism around IPI seriously and make “a thorough and professional evaluation of any future grants to IPI.”
Norway’s state auditor general (Riksrevisjonen) has announced that it’s carrying out a full examination of the foreign ministry’s relations with IPI. “It’s good that the support from the ministry to IPI is being examined,” MP Anniken Huitfeldt of the Labour Party told DN. She heads the Parliament’s foreign relations and defense committee. The auditor general’s investigation, however, concentrates on how the foreign ministry has handled and monitored its funding of IPI, not the links between IPI’s Rød-Larsen and Epstein.