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Wolfowitz Faces New Allegations of Favoritism

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Wolfowitz Faces New Allegations of Favoritism


Wolfowitz Faces New Allegations of Favoritism

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The World Bank president, Paul Wolfowitz, says he intends to keep his job. He says that despite repeated calls for him to step down or be fired. He has apologized for giving unusually large pay increases to a bank employee who was his girlfriend.

But critics are raising more questions about potential conflicts of interest. The latest allegations relate to work that his girlfriend did for a private contractor as the United States was preparing to invade Iraq.

NPR's Kathleen Schalch reports.

KATHLEEN SCHALCH: The story begins in March of 2003. Wolfowitz was the deputy secretary of defense. His girlfriend, Shaha Riza, worked for the World Bank. The Defense Department was hiring private contractors to help plan for a postwar Iraq.

One of those contractors was Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC. SAIC says the Pentagon told it to hire Ms. Riza. She worked for them for a month that spring and traveled to Iraq.

JEAN: I thought she had done this on a volunteer basis, on her own time. I did not know anything about a contract with that firm.

SCHALCH: Jean-Louis Sarbib was Riza's boss at the World Bank.

SARBIB: This was unusual and not terribly above board.

SCHALCH: Sarbib says there are conflict of interest rules for World Bank employees.

SARBIB: If you take contractual obligations with somebody else, there is something called the Committee on Outside Interests that has to pass judgment as to whether or not this is a potential conflict of interest or not. And I am not aware that there was any such request, and I should have been. I should have been the one actually granting that request.

SCHALCH: Riza's attorney says she did nothing wrong. The lawyer, Victoria Thompson(ph), says James Wolfensohn, who was then president of the World Bank, welcomed the trip and even asked Riza to brief members of the bank's executive board. Riza didn't profit from the work. In fact, she lost money.

SAIC confirms that Riza asked not to be paid, just reimbursed for her expenses. Riza's lawyer says she also took an unpaid leave of absence from the World Bank and gave up more than $10,000 in salary and benefits. But critics say this isn't just bureaucratic nitpicking.

BEA EDWARDS: The real issue is, what is her role here?

SCHALCH: Bea Edwards is with the watchdog group called the Government Accountability Project.

EDWARDS: How is she reconciling the fact that she is an international civil servant in one position that she holds while she is a contractor for the Pentagon in a country about to invade another country?

SCHALCH: Edwards says revelations like this are damaging to the World Bank. The bank did not answer repeated requests by NPR for information on Riza's trip to Iraq. Riza's attorney says her client is being smeared as part of a vendetta against Wolfowitz.

Kathleen Schalch, NPR News, Washington.

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