Wolfowitz to Confront World Bank Panel

Monday, World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz faces a World Bank panel that may decide his fate. Wolfowitz has been accused of ethics violations over getting his girlfriend a promotion at the bank.

LYNN NEARY, Host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Lynn Neary.

Paul Wolfowitz, the former Pentagon official who now presides at the World Bank, will be fighting to hold on to his job this week. He and his lawyer are scheduled to meet tomorrow with a World Bank committee that's investigating whether he broke bank rules by arranging a pay raise and promotion for his girlfriend, who's also a bank employee. Over the past days, Wolfowitz has been facing an internal revolt at the World Bank from staff members demanding that he resign.

NPR's Tom Gjelten has been covering this story, he joins us now. Good to have you with us, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN: Hi, Lynn.

NEARY: Tom, what's likely to happen at tomorrow's meeting?

GJELTEN: Lynn, this is a meeting of this ad hoc committee that's been investigating the allegations against Wolfowitz. The actual day-to-day governing body of the World Bank is a group of 24 executive directors who together represent all 185 countries in the World Bank. And as president of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz reports to that group. They are the ones who control his fate. They can get rid of him. This committee is just seven of those 24.

Now, I understand that this committee, in fact, has already completed a draft report on these allegations, and they've concluded that Paul Wolfowitz did, in fact, bend the rules in promoting his girlfriend, Shaha Riza. But this committee has invited Wolfowitz and his attorney, Bob Bennett, to meet with them tomorrow.

Bennett, of course, is a high-profile lawyer. He defended Bill Clinton against the sexual harassment charges of Paula Jones. I have spoken to him, and he says that Paul Wolfowitz is not ready to quit. He is determined to fight these allegations. Whether he's in a position to fight them for very long, of course, is another question.

NEARY: So this could be resolved tomorrow, then, I gather.

GJELTEN: Well, in theory, yes, but the ad hoc committee itself cannot vote to get rid of Wolfowitz. They would report to the full committee. If they do that, the board could convene tomorrow and take a vote. I do understand that at the moment, the votes are there, but it may not come to that. There are reasons that the board would not want to take a formal vote on this tomorrow.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is going to be here tomorrow for a summit and a joint press conference with President Bush. Germany has been one of the countries pushing hardest for Wolfowitz to leave, and the Bush administration may not want this Wolfowitz issue to overshadow that summit. So we could see some pressure on Wolfowitz to resign voluntarily before there's any formal action by the board.

NEARY: You know, given all the opposition that you've described within the World Bank, how can Wolfowitz fight this, even if he wants to?

GJELTEN: That is the key question. I understand, Lynn, that there are countries that had invited Paul Wolfowitz to come on visits who are now rescinding those invitations. Conferences are being cancelled. Projects are being put on hold. There's a lot coming up on the World Bank agenda in the next few months. Paul Wolfowitz is so weakened that it's virtually inconceivable that he can lead the institution under these circumstances.

NEARY: Last Thursday, more than 40 members of the World Bank's anti-corruption team said the controversy was undermining their credibility and authority to engage other countries on corruption issues. I mean, Wolfowitz, it sounds like, can't even really function given these kinds of things.

GJELTEN: And you know, Lynn, this anti-corruption fight is very close to Paul Wolfowitz' heart; it's been his number one mission. This is the entire anti- corruption team at the bank, and in that letter they said that the credibility of their efforts is "eroding in the face of legitimate questions from our clients about the bank's ability to practice what it preaches" - a really devastating criticism.

NEARY: All right. Well, let's say Wolfowitz does resign, that he just realizes that he can't fight this anymore; what happens then?

GJELTEN: What happens then is that for the moment, it would appear that the United States will still be able to name a new World Bank president. Now, this is a prerogative the United States has had since the beginning of the World Bank, but it's not written down anywhere. And, in fact, one of the things that's at stake here is whether that custom continues.

What may very well happen, Lynn, is that the United States will suggest a new president, but in order to, sort of, protect its position may, for the first time, suggest a non-American as its candidate to lead the World Bank. That would be a notable development. I don't think it's by any means out of the question.

NEARY: Who might they name? Any names being bandied about that you're hearing?

GJELTEN: There are names floating around. There is, for example, the current finance minister in South Africa, Trevor Manuel, who's himself been very active in bank business, is close to Wolfowitz, has a very good reputation. By naming him, the United States could put forward somebody who's considered, in a sense, friendly to the United States and friendly to Wolfowitz but very much from a Third-World background.

NEARY: Interesting resolution that would be. You know, I'm wondering, Tom, also - to what degree, Tom, is this opposition, this really fierce opposition, to Wolfowitz really about the role that he played in the war on Iraq?

GJELTEN: I think when that - Paul Wolfowitz had two strikes against him when he came into the bank for that very reason. We must understand, however, we must remember that the European countries that were so opposed to the Iraq war and therefore opposed to Wolfowitz did go along with his nomination. So even though that was against him from the beginning, it was not enough to doom his presidency. He really has gotten into this trouble on his own, I'm afraid.

NEARY: NPR's Tom Gjelten. Tom, thanks so much for being with us.

GJELTEN: Thank you, Lynn.

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