Terje Rod-Larsen, the president of the prestigious International Peace Institute since 2005, resigned Thursday, according to a statement released by the Manhattan-based think tank on Oct. 29, 2020. Rod-Larsen is a renowned Norwegian diplomat, politician and former United Nations envoy. He and his wife, Mona Juul, now Norway’s ambassador to the UN, were central negotiators to the 1993 Oslo peace accord between the Palestinians and Israel.
The Institute held an extraordinary board meeting on Thursday to discuss the new revelation that Rod-Larsen had taken a personal loan of $130,000 in 2013 from Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted — and now deceased — pedophile and financier from New York City. Rod-Larsen’s resignation came quickly.
Epstein was arrested for sex trafficking and sex offenses twice: one case involved a 2008 conviction in Florida for procuring an underage girl for prostitution. But there are no reports that Rod-Larsen was connected to any of the charges against Epstein. The issues, it appears, were purely financial.
Action by the Institute’s board followed new reports in the Norwegian business newspaper Dagens Naeringsliv, known as DN, which has been investigating the relationship between Epstein and Rod-Larsen for more than a year. The two were described as friends who often socialized together.
Epstein was arrested in July 2019 on federal charges for sex trafficking of minors in Florida and New York. He died in a Lower Manhattan prison in August 2019 in what American authorities ruled a suicide (a ruling that is still disputed). President Trump, Prince Andrew of Britain and other wide-ranging global figures were part of Epstein’s partying circles in Manhattan, the Caribbean and elsewhere.
DN’s most recent report, published in Oslo on Oct. 14, said that in 2013 Rod-Larsen asked for and received a personal loan of $130,00 from Epstein. Two years later, Rod-Larsen asked the Institute to transfer a $100,000 payment to Epstein under questionable circumstances.
The Institute’s board was summoned to meet on Oct. 29 after the news reports surfaced in Norway. The extraordinary session was instigated by Kevin Rudd, a former prime minister of Australia who has been IPI’s board chairman since 2018. The Norwegian government, headed by Prime Minister Erna Solberg, is also seeking an explanation from the Institute.
Its statement about Rod-Larsen’s resignation said that he apologized to the board “for his failed judgment in securing donations from foundations related to Jeffrey Epstein and in securing his own personal loan from Epstein in 2013 – neither of which the Board was aware of.”
It adds: “Epstein’s crimes were hideous. The notion that IPI would be in any way engaged with such an odious character is repugnant to the institution’s core values.”
The board has appointed Adam Lupel, the vice president of IPI, as its acting president and chief executive, effective immediately. Rod-Larsen earned nearly $493,000 in 2018 from the Institute, as well as about $71,000 in other compensation.
The reports on Rod-Larsen’s financial dealings with Epstein and the resignation occur as Norway joins the UN Security Council for a two-year elected term on Jan. 1, 2021. Ambassador Juul is a deeply respected diplomat in the UN, reflected by her country’s win this year for one of two hotly contested Council seats in the Western Europe and Others regional group, competing against Ireland and Canada. Norway came in first, then Ireland.
Rod-Larsen’s resignation also happened on the same day that the UN Security Council held an open virtual debate commemorating the 20th anniversary of the women, peace and security agenda, enshrined in 10 Council resolutions since 2000. The agenda recognizes that women suffer disproportionately in armed conflicts and that they must play direct, equal roles in peace talks and peace reconstruction, among other related actions.
Rod-Larsen wrote a letter to the Institute’s board and two advisory bodies, seen by PassBlue and dated Oct. 21, 2020, referring to the $130,000 loan, but he offers no explanation for it. Instead, he writes: “DN has reported that I took out a personal loan of $130,000 from Mr. Epstein in 2013. This loan had no connection to the activities or finances of IPI, and it was repaid in full as promised within the allotted time from my own personal accounts. IPI never paid any money or compensation of any kind to Jeffrey Epstein. This was a completely separate and personal matter.
“I recognize that it was a grave error of judgment on my part to engage in a personal financial relationship with Jeffrey Epstein, and I regret it whole heartedly.”
The Institute was founded in 1970 with UN Secretary-General U Thant, of Burma. A nonprofit organization, it is known for its dedication to furthering the cause of peace by acting as an independent extension — and more freely operating arm — of the UN’s own work. The Institute’s focus on women, peace and security began earnestly a few years ago but is now considered a prime arbiter on the topic.
The fallout from the DN report and Rod-Larsen’s letter incited some members of its International Advisory Council and Women, Peace and Leadership Council to resign this week as well.
Anne Marie Goetz, a feminist, a former chief adviser with UN Women and now a professor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, resigned her role on IPI’s advisory boards on Oct. 26, noting, among other problems, “the way that IPI has responded to the recent revelations about IPI’s — and Mr. Rod-Larsen’s personal — relationship with the convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.”
“Neither Mr. Rod-Larsen nor IPI have responded to these allegations in a timely or fully transparent fashion, and this raises serious concerns about the accountability of the IPI’s executive office,” she added. “Mr. Rod-Larsen’s letter of October 21 does not indicate the date on which he took the personal loan from Mr. Epstein, and whether there is any possibility that the financial engagement was embarked upon in complete ignorance of Mr. Epstein’s crimes.”
The $100,000 payment directed to Epstein by Rod-Larsen in 2015, separate from the $130,000 loan Rod-Larsen sought in 2013, is a convoluted story that originated with a Mongolian plan in which the Institute was reportedly involved. The plan was designed to help Mongolia, wedged between China and Russia, find a way to build and strengthen a democracy. A Mongolian advisory board was set up.
As the Norwegian newspaper DN described it: “[T]he group was to consist of up to six members, each ‘accomplished and distinguished in their fields’. Together, they were to contribute expertise, analysis and guidance to the President of Mongolia, particularly with respect to regional and global peace and security.
“Each group member were to receive a payment of $100,000 from the Mongolian government annually,” DN said. “In addition, all expenses for two semi-annual meetings were to be covered, including any companion. IPI were to appoint the members, that were subsequently to be approved by the Mongolian President’s office.”
Rudd of IPI was among a number of international dignitaries invited to join the group. When he declined to accept the honorarium, it was returned to the Institute, a partner in the venture, the newspaper and people connected to the organization said. Then, according to reports in Norway and New York City, Rod-Larsen instructed the Institute to pass the payment on to Epstein, who was apparently not connected to the Mongolian project.
The Institute denied this happened. DN has contradicted the assertion, based on documented findings of its investigative reporters, Tore Gjerstad and Gard Oterholm.
The published report says, “However, it is clear that the president of the think tank [IPI] gave the green light to make a payment of $100,000 to the financier.”
DN also reported that according to several independent sources familiar with both Epstein and Rod-Larsen, the latter was part of the circle around Epstein after he was convicted the first time, it said. “The two have met in different contexts through the years, and Rød-Larsen visited Epstein at his Manhattan home at least 20 times,” the report added.
Rod-Larsen, who reportedly lives in London, has not replied to queries from DN.
Other revelations regarding Epstein in the DN article said that he donated $650,000 to the Institute between 2011 to 2019. (Last year, IPI announced it would donate a sum equivalent to any donations received from Epstein’s foundations to programs that support victims of human trafficking and sexual assault.)
“I first learned of contributions from Epstein’s foundations to the IPI in November 2019 through reporting by the Norwegian press. I was blindsided by this,” Rudd said in a statement to DN on Oct. 28, 2020. “These revelations were deeply disturbing to me and to other members of the board. IPI’s work includes combating human trafficking and sexual violence.”
Rudd said that the newly reported financial links between Rod-Larsen and Epstein were also concerning.
“As a consequence of this latest development, I took action last week to convene an extraordinary board meeting and requested that Mr. Rod-Larsen provide a report to the board on all these matters,” Rudd said. “I will be recommending to the board that an immediate and comprehensive probity review be conducted into the matters raised.”
Rudd said he had been on a teleconference call with nine other people, including Epstein, in January 2014.
“Any significant engagement with someone as odious as Epstein must be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly. I have no recollection whatsoever of ever meeting Epstein,” Rudd said.
Dulcie Leimbach is a co-founder, with Barbara Crossette, of PassBlue. For PassBlue and other publications, Leimbach has reported from New York and overseas from West Africa (Burkina Faso and Mali) and from Europe (Scotland, Sicily, Vienna, Budapest, Kyiv, Armenia, Iceland and The Hague). She has provided commentary on the UN for BBC World Radio, ARD German TV and Radio, NHK’s English channel, Background Briefing with Ian Masters/KPFK Radio in Los Angeles and the Foreign Press Association.
Previously, she was an editor for the Coalition for the UN Convention Against Corruption; from 2008 to 2011, she was the publications director of the United Nations Association of the USA. Before UNA, Leimbach was an editor at The New York Times for more than 20 years, editing and writing for most sections of the paper, including the Magazine, Book Review and Op-Ed. She began her reporting career in small-town papers in San Diego, Calif., and Boulder, Colo., graduating to the Rocky Mountain News in Denver and then working at The Times. Leimbach has been a fellow at the CUNY Graduate Center’s Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies as well as at Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.; taught news reporting at Hofstra University; and guest-lectured at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the CUNY Journalism School. She graduated from the University of Colorado and has an M.F.A. in writing from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Barbara Crossette is the senior consulting editor and writer for PassBlue and the United Nations correspondent for The Nation. She is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She has also contributed to the Oxford Handbook on the United Nations.
Previously, Crossette was the UN bureau chief for The New York Times from 1994 to 2001 and previously its chief correspondent in Southeast Asia and South Asia. She is the author of “So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas,” “The Great Hill Stations of Asia” and a Foreign Policy Association study, “India Changes Course,” in the Foreign Policy Association’s “Great Decisions 2015.”
Crossette won the George Polk award for her coverage in India of the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and the 2010 Shorenstein Prize for her writing on Asia.