Wolfowitz resigns from World Bank

Posted in United States | 18-May-07 | Author: Steven Weisman| Source: International Herald Tribune

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz leaves his house in the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland, May 17, 2007.

WASHINGTON: Paul Wolfowitz, ending a furor over favoritism that blew up into a global fight over American leadership, announced his resignation as president of the World Bank Thursday evening after the bank's board accepted his claim that his mistakes at the bank were made in good faith.

The decision came four days after a special investigative committee of the bank concluded that he had violated his contract by breaking ethical and governing rules in arranging the generous pay and promotion package for Shaha Ali Riza, his companion, in 2005.

The resignation, effective June 30, brought a dramatic conclusion to two days of negotiations between Wolfowitz and the bank board after weeks of turmoil.

"He assured us that he acted ethically and in good faith in what he believed were the best interests of the institution, and we accept that," said the board's directors in a statement issued Thursday night. "We also accept that others involved acted ethically and in good faith."

In the carefully negotiated statement, the bank board praised Wolfowitz for his two years of service, particularly for his work in arranging debt relief and pressing for more assistance to poor countries, especially in Africa. They also cited Wolfowitz's work in combating corruption, his signature issue.

Wolfowitz said he was grateful for the directors' decision and, referring to the bank's mission of helping the world's poor, added: "Now it is necessary to find a way to move forward. To do that I have concluded that it is in the best interests of those whom this institution serves for that mission to be carried forward under new leadership."

Wolfowitz's negotiated departure averted what threatened to become a bitter rupture between the United States and its economic partners at an institution established after World War II. The World Bank channels $22 billion in loans and grants a year to poor countries.

But he left behind a place that must heal its divisions and overhaul a flawed, cumbersome structure that had allowed the controversy over Wolfowitz to spread out of control.

People close to the negotiations said that Wolfowitz had agreed not to make major personnel or policy decisions between now and June 30. Some bank officials said he might go on an administrative leave and cede day-to-day functions to an acting leader, but that might not be decided until Friday.

President George W. Bush earlier in the day praised Wolfowitz at a news conference but signaled that the end was near by saying he regretted "that it's come to this." A White House spokesman, Tony Fratto, said, "We would have preferred that he stay at the bank, but the president reluctantly accepts his decision."

More important for the bank's future, Fratto said, Bush will soon announce a candidate to succeed Wolfowitz, quashing speculation that the United States would end the custom, in effect since the 1940s, of the American president picking the bank president.

Many European officials previously indicated that they would go along with the United States' picking a successor if Wolfowitz would resign voluntarily, as he now has.

Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. said Thursday that he would "consult my colleagues around the world" before recommending a choice to Bush, in what seemed to be an effort to assure allies that the United States would not repeat what happened in 2005 when Bush surprised them by selecting Wolfowitz, then a deputy secretary of defense and an architect of the Iraq war.

Leaders of Germany and France objected but decided not to make a fight over the choice and risk reopening wounds from their opposition to the war two years earlier. Some also argued that Wolfowitz, as a conservative seeking to write a new chapter in a career that had been focused on national security, might bring new support to aiding the world's poor.

Soon after Wolfowitz took office, however, he engaged in fights in various quarters at the bank over issues including his campaign against corruption, in which he suspended aid to several countries without consulting board members, and his reliance on a small group of aides.

Wolfowitz's resignation, while ending the turmoil that erupted in early April over the disclosure of his role in arranging Riza's pay and promotion package, will not by itself repair the divisions at the bank over his leadership, bank officials said Thursday evening.

By all accounts, the terms of Wolfowitz's exoneration left a bitter taste with most of the 24 board members, who represent major donor countries, as well as clusters of smaller donor and recipient countries. Most had wanted to adopt the findings of the special board committee that determined he had acted unethically on the matter of Riza.

But the closest the board came to criticizing Wolfowitz was saying in that "a number of mistakes were made by a number of individuals in handling the matter under consideration and that the bank's systems did not prove robust to the strain under which they were placed."

Also angered was the bank's staff association, which had called for Wolfowitz's resignation in early April. The bank's internal blogs were filled with denunciations of the action on Thursday evening.

Late in the evening, the association issued a statement saying, "Welcome though it is, the president's resignation is not acceptable under the present arrangement," and that it "completely undermines the principles of good governance and the principles that the staff fight to uphold."

The association represents most of the 7,000 full-time employees at the bank in Washington. Their unhappiness could be a crucial factor in the bank board's ability to heal the wounds left by the fight over Wolfowitz. It appeared likely that after Wolfowitz's departure there would be a departure of several top aides, including Robin Cleveland, who officials said was involved in the negotiations over the statements accompanying his departure.

During the day, as word spread throughout the institution that Wolfowitz was close to a deal, some officials said that one of the obstacles was his compensation package. But there was no information Thursday night on whether he would receive any sort of severance package or pension, or be reimbursed for legal fees from his long battle.

Wolfowitz's pay package was $302,470 in salary as of 2004 — the bank pays any of the taxes on that sum — and $141,290 in expenses. His contract calls for him to be paid a year's salary if he is terminated, but it was unclear whether his resignation would be considered a termination as defined by the contract.

Wolfowitz's fight for vindication was led by his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, and negotiated at the bank by the British director, Thomas Scholar, a close associate of Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the Exchequer who is to become prime minister this summer.