The mentor of Swedish princess Sofia brought young women to Jeffrey Epstein’s mansion
The American billionaire and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein donated large amounts of money to the Stockholm School of Economics’ scholarship for women. As his conviction was made public the school downplayed his involvement and continued receiving money. Barbro Ehnbom, the founder of the scholarship, repeatedly invited young Swedish women to Epstein's luxury home in New York. Dress code? Bare legs.
Dagens ETC can reveal new information regarding the decisions made by the School of Economics and confirm that Epstein approached several of these Swedish women - urging them to find new potential victims.
On a mild spring evening a group of Swedish-speaking women gathered in front of a stone palace on New York’s Upper East Side. A few years later the luxurious Manhattan estate would become infamously known as a site where Jeffrey Epstein raped underage girls.
At the time, Selma was 20-years old and studying in New York. On the 15th of March 2012 she was invited to dinner by a friend who was a member of the American branch of the Swedish women's network Barbro’s Best and Brightest (BBB). The invitation listed the address of a "Mr. B"; short for Mister Billionaire. Dress code? Bare legs. Selma asked for more information and her friend replied: "We’re going to visit a convicted pedophile, haha."
– I just thought it was some kind of twisted joke. I still chose to accept the invitation, Selma says.
A butler wearing a dark suit opened the mansion’s massive oak doors. The group of Swedish women in their 20’s was escorted into the house by the Swedish-American financial veteran Barbro Ehnbom. The women’s heels echoed against the marble floor of the impressive entrance hall. A white-haired man presented himself as Jeff Epstein and proceeded to give the group a tour of the 40-bedroom house, whose walls were painted gold and included a trophy room devoted to taxidermy – where a full giraffe made up part of the decor. Epstein proudly pointed out an oil painting depicting Bill Clinton wearing a blue dress and high heels.
– Right from the start I had this really strange feeling. Among other things, we were shown his massage room. Much later, I realized that I had entered the room where he abused all those the girls, Selma says.
Dagens ETC can now reveal that on at least three occasions – in 2012, 2013 and 2014 - scholarship recipients from the Stockholm School of Economics were invited to dinner and champagne parties at the home of Epstein, who at the time was a convicted sex offender. The visits took place under the guidance of Barbro Ehnbom. At the occasion when Selma visited the house, the group ate dinner in an incredibly luxurious setting, but she could not suppress a feeling of unease.
– I don’t understand why we were even there, to be honest. Fortunately, nothing happened.
Other women, however, were not so lucky.
"Keep your shoes on"
The front door opens and a small dog with greyish fur comes barking, it’s eyes somewhat glazed.
– He’s almost completely blind, the poor thing, a voice from inside the apartment says.
Barbro Ehnbom’s signature red hair appears in the hallway.
– I guess we'll see how pleasant this gets. You can keep your shoes on, she says and leads the way into the apartment which is located just a stone's throw away from the Stockholm School of Economics. The red hair has been her trademark ever since she left Sweden in the 70's, making her way to Wall Street and serving as a board member for major US companies. She has been featured in the popular Swedish summer radio emission (in 2017), served as mentor for Swedish princess Sofia, and has frequented the inner circles of New York’s upper class for the past 50 years.
– The first time I met Jeffrey Epstein was at a science conference in 2001 where I managed to convince him to donate money to my foundation, says Barbro Ehnbom, who is now 76 years old.
When she turned 50 she received a sum of money from her friends to launch an initiative to help women in business.
– It was basically from my friends within the Swedish financial elite, Wallenberg, Wall and many others. Everyone wanted to contribute.
Largest contributor: Epstein
Barbro Ehnbom founded the scholarship “Female economist of the year” in close collaboration with the Stockholm School of Economics, her own alma mater. At the time, the school had been involved in several scandals. During a student party, the attending male students had harassed the waitressing female first-year students by ripping their clothes off. Reporting on the incident, which took place in 1996, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter wrote, “When the hired stripper removed her clothes, chaos ensued: food was thrown and one person was beaten.”
– At the time a lot of criticism was directed at the School of Economics because of its male dominance. A lot of criticism was also directed at the Swedish financial sector in general for failing to promote women, says Lars Bergman, Vice-Chancellor of the Stockholm School of Economics at the time, now retired.
The scholarship founded by Ehnbom therefore arrived at a timely moment. Established in 2001, Jeffrey Epstein became the foundation’s main financial donor, something the school was well aware of. In recognition, the American billionaire was named "Best male support 2002". Epstein boasted of his collaboration with the Swedish higher education institution and mentioned the scholarship in efforts to present himself as a generous and socially engaged philanthropist.
On websites devoted to Epstein’s philanthropic work, the Stockholm School of Economics is listed as an important partner among other prestigious schools such as Harvard, Stanford and MIT.
Didn’t see anything inappropriate
Barbro Ehnbom met Epstein on many occasions but says she never saw anything that suggested he was “a pig”.
– All these important people who visited him. You can’t seriously believe that they went there to do dirty stuff with a 14-year old. They visited him because he was brilliant. He made his way to the top, something very few people are able to do. It's an American success story. Of course, the story of his fall is absolutely horrible, the very worst probably.
Stories have circulated that Epstein used to arrange trips with underage girls on his private plane, where they were exploited as sex slaves by him and his friends. Barbro Ehnbom, however, questions why Epstein was charged for trafficking before his death in 2019.
– Trafficking is something terrible. They’ll take a ten-year-old girl, put her in a truck and take her to a brothel in Queens, where they’ll beat her until she does what they want. That’s trafficking. I don’t know if sitting on a plane and drinking champagne with Prince Andrew is trafficking. Maybe another kind of trafficking.
According to Ehnbom, the university handled the foundation’s accounting. The Vice-Chancellor was part of the scholarship’s steering committee together with Ehnbom and members of her women's network BBB. The university provided Ehnbom with an office and paid the salaries of a couple of employees. Each year, the foundation selected a student who was granted the “Female economist of the year” award. The award was celebrated both in Stockholm and in the US. The recipient was offered a job at a major American company and when the student arrived in New York celebrations were held on at least three occasions at Jeffrey Epstein’s home.
– They were invited over on a few occasions, which was of course a highlight. It wasn’t an ordinary townhouse, it was Manhattan's largest mansion. It was a great thing. He selected them on the basis of their CV:s, followed by a pretty sophisticated intellectual conversation, says Barbro Ehnbom.
A convicted sex offender
In June 2008 whirlwind news began to spread throughout New York's socialite circles. The city’s most prominent newspapers revealed that Jeffrey Epstein had been convicted for sexual offenses against a minor in Florida. As part of a controversial plea deal, he was convicted of two crimes, yet the investigation identified 36 girls whom Epstein had allegedly abused. As Epstein registered as a convicted sex offender, many began to distance themselves from him.
When the Stockholm School of Economics and Barbro Ehnbom became aware of the conviction they tried to downplay the connection between Epstein and the school, rather than terminate the collaboration. On the school's website Epstein's name had previously been listed as recipient of the award “Best male support”. In 2009, after his conviction, his name was deleted and replaced by the pseudonym “Mr. B”, according to an older, archived version of the website which Dagens ETC has found. The Stockholm School of Economics is the only university that accepted donations both before and after Epstein was convicted. The foundation continued to receive donations until 2015, at which point Epstein had donated SEK 1.5 million. This figure, however, only represents transactions which have been made public, the actual figure is in all likelihood much higher.
Speaking to a reporter from the New York Times, once released from prison, Epstein described himself as “radioactive”. Several of his powerful friends began giving him the cold shoulder. But not Barbro Ehnbom or the Stockholm School of Economics.
“It made my stomach turn”
Let’s return to Epstein's Manhattan luxury estate. In September 2013, Barbro Ehnbom escorted a new group of women. This time the 14 members of the BBB network were led into a large hall which would later become known in the media as “the leather room”. Along one wall there was a table with photos of Epstein together with his powerful friends Bill Clinton and Woody Allen.
– From what I can remember, we were asked to wear a dress and heels, but he himself was wearing sweatpants and a sports shirt, says one woman, who has requested to remain anonymous.
Among the group present at Epstein’s house that night were Swedish women living in New York but also students from the Stockholm School of Economics, including the recipient of the “Female economist of the year” award. They sat down on leopard-printed armchairs around a large table. The white-haired financier, then 60 years old, offered his guests champagne but did not drink himself. Instead he was served tea by young girls who were already present in the house when the guests arrived and who stayed in the house when the Swedes left.
– From what I can remember, the girls looked extremely young and were dressed in what looked like school uniforms. Strangely, after the event, Barbro told a few of the participants that it was a shame that Jeffrey had never met anyone long-term. But that he had always gotten along well with Swedish women. It felt like a strange comment to make in the context of a professional event.
Covering the current trial against Ghislaine Maxwell, AP has reported that several women testified about how the former socialite acted as a procurer for Epstein and committed acts of sexual abuse herself. According to one witness, Maxwell gave a 14-year-old girl a school uniform and said: “I thought it could be fun for you to serve Jeffrey tea in these clothes”. According to the witness, Epstein then raped the girl.
Instructed to communicate with Epstein
After the evening at Epstein’s house, Barbro Ehnbom's assistant sent out a request to the BBB network via email: “Barbro wants everyone to get in touch with Jeffrey and thank him for the evening”, and provided Epstein’s email address. One of the BBB members, who was in her 20s, was later contacted by Epstein. They met and, according to the woman, Epstein made advances towards her. Dagens ETC has spoken at length with the woman who at the last minute has chosen not to participate in the article. We also have reliable information that Epstein asked women in the network to help him come into contact with potential victims.
One of the women who was invited to Epstein's house felt uncomfortable when she later read about his conviction. This was reported to Barbro Ehnbom's closest colleague in New York.
– She replied that similar criticism had been voiced before and that she herself felt badly about it, but that Barbro had chosen to disregard the criticism. Probably because he was such an important financial donor, says the woman who has requested to remain anonymous.
One year later, on September 23rd, 2014, Barbro Ehnbom brought another group of women to Epstein’s house. In the invitation she wrote: “Cocktail at BBB sponsor Jeffrey in his townhouse on the Upper East Side”.
"Feels absolutely awful"
The current Vice-Chancellor of the Stockholm School of Economics, Lars Strannegård, has declined our request for an interview, but writes in an email that he didn’t know who Jeffrey Epstein was when he assumed his position in 2014.
– It feels absolutely awful that our students were brought to the home of a convicted sex offender and introduced to this person by someone they trusted. I was very troubled when I heard this, says Lars Strannegård.
Epstein boasted about donating money to the Stockholm School of Economics even after his conviction in 2008. What is your take on the fact that the school helped give credibility to Epstein’s reputation?
– I didn’t know that Jeffrey Epstein was a financial donor until 2015 and I am also completely unaware that he boasted about this. It’s deeply regrettable if the school in any way unknowingly contributed to giving credibility to Epstein’s reputation.
Other higher education institutions like MIT have been transparent, apologized and donated some of Epstein’s money to organizations working against trafficking. Will the School of Economics do the same?
– We’ve been transparent with everything we know about this. We’ve provided all the information we have both internally and to our external stakeholders.
This is not the case.
Dagens ETC has been in contact with employees at the university who have not received any internal information about the connections to the School of Economics. Lars Strannegård has also revised his statement. In 2015 the Stockholm School of Economics was contacted by a journalist from Reuters who had been investigating Epstein’s donations. Strannegård has previously stated that this was the first time that the school board learned of Epstein's donations. He kept quiet about this for four years until the matter was exposed by Dagens Nyheter in 2019.
According to Ehnbom, the Stockholm School of Economics received a list of all donors, including Epstein, as early as 2001. When Dagens ETC confronts Strannegård with this information he suddenly acknowledges that the university knew money was coming from Epstein all along.
– But at that time (2001) I wasn’t involved with the school board, so I don’t know, he says.
Lars Bergman, the Vice-Chancellor of the Stockholm School of Economics during 2003-2012, doesn’t remember whether he saw Epstein’s name on any lists. He also says he doesn’t know why Epstein’s name was deleted from the website.
– No decisions were formally made regarding the content of the webpage, this is handled by the department of communication. In practice Barbro made the decisions regarding the BBB site.
He claims he only became aware of Epstein’s first conviction in the summer of 2019.
– I must say that if he was convicted already back then and Barbro knew about it, it is very odd and regrettable that she didn’t inform me about it. She was so closely involved that she reasonably had a moral obligation to inform me as Vice-Chancellor.
Was promised a doctor's hat
Barbro Ehnbom tells us that the Stockholm School of Economics promised her a doctor's hat.
– But that idea seems to have been forgotten now that this poison is spreading. Same thing with the King’s Medal.
We mention the paradox of this story: she launched a network to empower women but brought all these young women to the home of a convicted sex offender. Ehnbom has never spoken about the visits to Epstein’s home in interviews with other media. She has also claimed that she first became aware of the verdict against Epstein in 2015. Sitting on a stool in her living room, she now explains that she was well aware of Epstein’s conviction once it was made public in June 2008.
– Of course I learned of the conviction when it occurred. But there was this explanation floating around that it was political. He donated many millions to the Democratic Party. The conviction was George Bush's way of discrediting Epstein. That’s also what happened. He was not allowed to donate more money, neither to Clinton nor to anyone else.
Ehnbom thus claims that she didn’t take the conviction very seriously since it was allegedly driven by political motives. She mentions a theory according to which Jeb Bush, Florida's former Republican governor, was involved. The motive being to discredit one of the democratic party’s most important financial donors. Jeb Bush, however, left the office of governor already in 2007. The research done by Dagens ETC shows that Epstein also donated large amounts of money to both Democratic and Republican politicians and prosecutors. Most money was received by Democratic candidates in New Mexico and Florida, where Epstein owned real estate and property.
When you were at Epstein's house, did you see girls serving him tea in school uniforms?
– No, I had no idea about that. But he was always surrounded by young, smart girls. He liked young girls. The ones I saw were 19–20 years old, says Ehnbom and adds that she never heard of Epstein making any advances towards women in the BBB network.
You knew he was convicted sex offender. Yet you still brought members of your network to his house?
– I hope you understand that this was the furthest away from my mind. If you think that I was running a brothel or was some kind of Swedish Maxwell then you’re wrong. That’s very insulting. Just the thought of what happened to some of those other girls. Terrible.
Don’t you think you exposed members of the BBB network to a risk by bringing them to Epstein’s house?
– Not for a second. And I really mean that. After all I was there and I didn’t see anything inappropriate taking place. Nothing like that. On the upside, he has helped some of the members get in touch with great contacts.