Multilateral Development Banks

World Bank justice

(May 18, 2007) All that mattered to Mr. Wolfowitz’s accusers was to be rid of him, whatever the pretext or methods.

By the Wall Street Journal, published on May 18, 2007

An American appointee has been ousted from a multilateral institution by a staff and media cabal on trumped-up charges solely because they disliked his priorities. The inmates are now in charge.

So after weeks of nasty leaks and media smears, the World Bank’s board of executive directors yesterday cleared President Paul Wolfowitz of ethical misconduct for following the board’s own advice on how to handle a conflict of interest involving his girlfriend. And Mr. Wolfowitz in turn will resign from the bank at the end of June. Run that by us again?

We’ve said from the beginning that the charges against Mr. Wolfowitz were bogus, and that the effort to unseat him amounted to a political grudge by those who opposed his role in the Bush Administration and a bureaucratic vendetta by those who opposed his anti-corruption agenda at the bank. That view was vindicated by yesterday’s statement, which showed how little the merits of the case against Mr. Wolfowitz had to do with the final result.

Mr. Wolfowitz “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,” the directors said, thus rejecting the findings of a rigged investigating committee that had ignored key evidence. The most damning judgment the directors could muster is that “a number of mistakes were made,” including by the bank’s own ethics committee that had refused to let Mr. Wolfowitz recuse himself from matters involving his girlfriend, Shaha Riza.

In other words, this was all about politics. And all that mattered to Mr. Wolfowitz’s accusers was to be rid of him, whatever the pretext or methods. The least they can do now is restore Ms. Riza to her job, assuming she wants to be part of an organization that treated her so shabbily.

This all may pass as World Bank justice. For the rest of us, it has served as a window into an institution that seems to observe no rule other than the interests of the unaccountable mandarins who consider themselves its rightful owners. There have been plenty of outrages in the bank’s treatment of Mr. Wolfowitz, but for sheer chutzpah nothing exceeds the argument of last week’s report by the investigating committee of the board that he had put the institution “in a bad and unfair light” by daring to defend himself publicly against selective and false media leaks designed to smear him. Had Mr. Wolfowitz taken that advice, he would have been out on his ear without so much as the benefit of the formal acquittal he has now received.

As for the Bush Administration, it might be in a better position now had it defended its man as vigorously as he defended himself. Instead, its officials were slow to understand what was happening and – with the exception of President Bush himself – largely mute as the coup unfolded.

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