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IMF chief Georgieva's lawyer claims data probe violated World Bank staff rules

By Reuters

By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON – Lawyers who investigated World Bank data-rigging allegations against IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva violated World Bank staff rules by failing to notify her that she was a subject of the probe and by not allowing her to respond to its findings, Georgieva’s attorney said.

In a letter to the International Monetary Fund Executive Board released on Thursday, Covington & Burling attorney Lanny Breuer asked directors to consider “fundamental procedural and substantive errors” with the investigation report by WilmerHale, a law firm hired by the World Bank’s board to investigate data irregularities in the lender’s flagship “Doing Business” rankings of country business climates.

The WilmerHale report alleged that while Georgieva was World Bank CEO in 2017, she applied “undue pressure” on World Bank staff to make data changes that boosted China’s ranking at a time when the bank was seeking Beijing’s support for a major capital increase. Georgieva has denied the allegations.

The new claims from Breuer, a former U.S. Justice Department official and special counsel to former President Bill Clinton during his 1999 impeachment trial, come as Georgieva tries to persuade the IMF board to support her.

The board interviewed both Georgieva and WilmerHale this week and will deliberate again on the matter on Friday.

For its part, France plans to give its support to Georgieva at the board meeting, a French Finance Ministry source told Reuters on Friday.

Georgieva on Wednesday called the accusations that she pressured staff to make inappropriate data changes “outrageous and untrue” and said some of her statements were taken out of context by WilmerHale. She publicly released her lengthy statement to the board on Thursday.

“Ms Georgieva has never been notified that she is a subject of the investigation, or been given an opportunity, as guaranteed by Staff Rule 3.00 to review and respond to the report’s findings,” wrote Breuer, her attorney.

The rule covers the World Bank Office of Ethics and Business Conduct procedures.

The WilmerHale report said the initial part of its investigation focused on board officials pursuant to the Code of Conduct for Board Officials, a different set of rules than the staff rule referenced by Breuer.

“We conducted our investigation following all applicable World Bank rules,” the WilmerHale firm said in an emailed statement. “Dr. Georgieva was notified that our report would be presented to the World Bank Board, and that the World Bank could disclose any information she provided.”

According to a July email from WilmerHale to Georgieva reviewed by Reuters, a WilmerHale partner said the firm was conducting its review into Doing Business data irregularities and staff misconduct authorized by and pursuant to World Bank Staff Rule 3.00. As World Bank CEO in 2017, Georgieva would have been considered a member of staff, not a board official.

“You are not a subject of our review,” the email to Georgieva asking her to speak with investigators read. “Instead, we are reaching out to you because we believe you may have information that could be helpful to our review.”

The World Bank’s General Counsel’s office said that the investigation into the Doing Business 2018 and 2020 reports “was conducted in full compliance with World Bank rules.”