HBO’s new movie Oslo, released this weekend, lionizes a pair of Norwegian diplomats behind the 1993 Oslo Accords. The historic agreement established the Palestinian Authority, carved out areas of Palestinian control in the West Bank and Gaza, and formally recognized the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.), which had heretofore been deemed a terrorist organization.
The film, based on J. T. Rogers’s Tony Award–winning play of the same name, focuses on the efforts of real-life diplomat Terje Rød-Larsen (played by Andrew Scott) and his wife, Mona Juul (played by Ruth Wilson), to get Palestinian and Israeli negotiators to come to a deal.
What the movie leaves out is Jeffrey Epstein, the smirking Banquo’s ghost at many elegant dinner parties these days, whose relationship with the diplomats has tarred 73-year-old Rød-Larsen’s reputation in his home country.
In a scandal that rocked Norway last fall but barely made news in the U.S., Norway’s leading business daily, Dagens Naeringsliv, or DN, revealed details of Rød-Larsen’s personal and professional connections with the late sex trafficker. The diplomat subsequently resigned from his position as president of the International Peace Institute (I.P.I.), a New York–based nonprofit think tank headquartered across the street from the U.N.
Sketchy business dealings are not new for Rød-Larsen. The diplomat briefly served as Norway’s planning minister during a social-democratic government in 1996. After less than two months, he was forced to resign when journalists revealed his involvement in a tax fraud. In 1997, Rød-Larsen paid a fine of 50,000 kroner (a little less than $6,000) for backdating stock options in order to profit in the lead-up to a bankruptcy.
What the movie leaves out is Jeffrey Epstein, the smirking Banquo’s ghost at many elegant dinner parties these days.
DN’s investigation revealed that Rød-Larsen had privately borrowed money from and visited “Jeff,” as he referred to him in e-mails, in his Manhattan lair at least 20 times in the years after Epstein did jail time in 2008 and 2009 for what turned out to be a massive sex-trafficking operation. Rød-Larsen also reportedly sent Epstein flowers for his birthday in January 2018.
During his tenure as president of I.P.I., Rød-Larsen accepted a total of $650,000 in donations to the organization from two Epstein trusts. Epstein transferred the money in six-figure tranches in 2011 and 2014, and made his last donation in April 2019, just a few months before he was arrested by federal agents after his private jet touched down at Teterboro Airport, in New Jersey.
Epstein’s donations to the think tank also included $150,000 for a May 2017 special performance of the play Oslo in New York City, to which I.P.I. invited nearly a thousand guests—Epstein among them, of course.
In October 2020, DN published a promissory note from 2013 showing Rød-Larsen accepting a $130,000 personal loan from Epstein. Two years later, in 2015, Terje Rød-Larsen and Mona Juul paid around $160,000 for property on the Greek island of Paxos, a favorite of Italy’s Agnelli family, among other aristocrats. The couple have since built a luxury villa on the land.
While her husband has resigned his I.P.I. post, Juul is currently Norway’s ambassador to the U.N. and sits on the U.N. Security Council as Norway’s representative for the 2021–22 year. (Juul declined to comment on “questions not related to her work,” including on Rød-Larsen’s relationship with Epstein.)
The DN investigation also revealed that Epstein served as the go-between for Rød-Larsen, former U.S. Treasury secretary Larry Summers, and an I.P.I. entity called the Mongolia Advisory Board.
The purpose and genesis of the board is not clear. According to documents obtained by Norwegian journalists, I.P.I. entered into a “Mongolia Presidential Advisory Agreement” with the Mongolian government in December of 2013. The group was to consist of up to six members, each “accomplished and distinguished in their fields,” to contribute analysis and guidance to the president of Mongolia, “particularly with respect to regional and global peace and security.”
The Mongolian government had ponied up $100,000 for each of six high-profile members, including Summers and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak’s wife, Nili. (Epstein is also thought to have received a portion of these funds, though I.P.I. denies he was paid.)
Correspondence between Rød-Larsen’s staff indicates that, in order to get information on how to pay Summers, they needed to go through Epstein. “Terje said he would get it from Jeff,” read one e-mail that was circulated among I.P.I. staff members.
After Rød-Larsen resigned, on October 29, 2020, I.P.I. hired the accounting firm K.P.M.G. to look into the Epstein connections. K.P.M.G. found that I.P.I. had gone through Epstein’s assistant Lesley Groff for instructions on how to wire money to Summers. “Jeffrey requested I send you the below wiring instructions for the Mongolian meeting Larry Summers had in Davos,” Groff wrote to I.P.I.
I.P.I. then sent a $100,000 “honorarium” to LHSummers Economic Consulting on February 28, 2014. An Epstein entity, Enhanced Education, also paid I.P.I. $14,158.88 as “reimbursement for L. Summers flight,” according to K.P.M.G.
When Norwegian journalists reached Summers on the phone for comment, he was not obliging. DN published the exchange as follows:
“This is Larry Summers, but you should try to reach me through my office.”
The former U.S. Treasury Secretary states the phone number he wants DN to call. While still on the phone, DN tries to explain:
“$100,000 you received from the International Peace Institute in 2014, after the office of Jeffrey Epstein sent them …”
Summers cut the question off, and reiterates that calls should be directed through his office:
“You don’t call me directly. They’ll tell you what to do. Thank you. Bye bye.”
No further comment was forthcoming from the former president of Harvard. Summers did not respond to AIR MAIL’s requests for comment.
Hollywood vs. Reality
The Oslo play presented Rød-Larsen as the hero and leading figure of the Israel-Palestine deal. In fact, Jan Egeland, state secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was the de facto political leader of the accords.
As the film adaptation premieres, another Oslo Accords story is getting investigated in Norway, this time concerning documents from the time of the accords that are either missing from the state archives or purposely being withheld.
The notes and documents of Norway’s foreign minister, Johan Jørgen Holst, from the final months of the negotiations have been lost for decades. A Norwegian journalist based in Israel quoted from some of these documents in a book about the peace deal, but he has shielded his source under press-freedom laws. The missing material is legally the property of the state.
Rød-Larsen has also declined to share his notes from the accords. (Norway’s National Archive, this week responding to a request under Norwegian law, stated it last asked for Rød-Larsen to share his private collection of documents in August 2018. Rød-Larsen did not respond to AIR MAIL’s requests for comment.)
While no longer with I.P.I., Rød-Larsen remains an influential figure on the scene of Israeli-Palestinian issues. He has taken some credit for assisting behind the scenes in Trump’s 2020 Abraham Accords deal, largely credited to Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner’s keen interest in the region and close friendships with Gulf Arab potentates.
“I have brought the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, the Israeli Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and President together in New York for several years. That is some of the background for the signing that took place in the White House and the background for me being invited there,” Rød-Larsen told the Norwegian state broadcast network in September of last year.
Rød-Larsen continues to be referred to as a U.N. special envoy, despite not having occupied a U.N. post since 2014. And his late friend Jeffrey Epstein, who starred posthumously in his own HBO documentary, Filthy Rich, last year, makes no cameo in this film.
Oslo is available for streaming on HBO
Nina Burleigh is a journalist and author. Her most recent book, Virus: Vaccinations, the CDC, and the Hijacking of America’s Response to the Pandemic, is out now
Tarjei Leer-Salvesen is an Oslo-based journalist