Documents do little to clarify Wolfowitz case

Records will be used to argue for and against World Bank president

April 29, 2007|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Arriving as president of the World Bank in the summer of 2005, Paul D. Wolfowitz told colleagues that he was eager to tackle poverty in Africa and corruption in aid. But almost immediately he became consumed by frustrating negotiations with bank officials over the status of his companion, an employee at the bank, documents released this month show.

Now these documents are at the center of the World Bank's inquiry into his conduct and Wolfowitz's defense, both of which will be presented at the World Bank's board of directors tomorrow.

Instead of offering definitive answers on Wolfowitz's conduct, however, the documents on the handling of the transfer, promotion and salary of Shaha Ali Riza, Wolfowitz's companion, have become a matter of conflicting interpretations.

Wolfowitz and his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, are expected to say that the documents back their argument that in handling Riza's raise, promotion and transfer, Wolfowitz "acted on the advice of the board's ethics committee to work out an agreement" fair to her and in compliance with bank rules.

But a committee of the bank's board looking into the situation is circulating a document indicating that, after he got authorization to handle the matter, Wolfowitz appears to have violated bank rules and ethical standards of his own employment contract by granting her an outsized pay raise and a major promotion.

Tomorrow, board members are expected to ask him how he decided to grant the salary increase, why he apparently did not clear the specifics with others and why he allowed, or directed, his aides to spread what they say was a falsehood, namely that the ethics committee had approved the salary.

This week, the 24-member board may ask for Wolfowitz's resignation, declare a loss of confidence in his leadership or do nothing in the hope that negotiations with the Bush administration can bring about a voluntary resignation. Few doubt the board's determination to push him out.

The documents do show that Wolfowitz in 2005 alerted bank officials to the potential conflict of interest posed by his relationship with Riza and that he had sought to recuse himself from discussions about how to resolve it.

When an anonymous whistle-blower complained about the salary increase in early 2006, Ad Melkert, the chairman of the bank's ethics committee, said in a letter on Feb. 28 that the complaint did not warrant "any further review by the committee."

Bennett is expected to argue that Wolfowitz's actions were in accordance with advice by ethics officials and were subsequently cleared by these same officials.

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