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24/12/2002 | ¡Dios Mio! IDB Corruption Probe Ends ...

Martin Edwin Andersen

After weeks of denials and then a dramatic about-face on Wednesday concerning allegations of kickbacks involving officials and consultants of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the multilateral financial institution announced on Thursday that it had finished its corruption probe, Insight has learned.

 

Disclosure that the investigation was reaching an end came on the heels of the revelation that the case of a retired senior bank official who allegedly received kickbacks from consultants in exchange for work has been referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia for possible criminal prosecution [see
"IDB in Stunning About-Face," Dec. 12].

"The Office of the Auditor General investigates all allegations of fraud and corruption that it receives," IDB external-relations adviser Mirna Liévano de Marques told Insight. "At this time, this specific investigation has concluded and no other referrals to the Office of the U.S. Attorney are expected."

On Wednesday, bank officials confirmed that they had cancelled an ongoing consultancy contract with Armando Namis -- the target of the investigation -- and said that the case was referred to the U.S. Justice Department on the recommendation of the IDB's Committee on Fraud and Corruption.

Liévano de Marques said that because the investigation was "still an active matter" before the U.S. Attorney the bank would not confirm the identity of Namis, a longtime friend of IDB President Enrique Iglesias, although other officials did so privately. Although a statement from Liévano de Marques distributed Wednesday evening to bank employees described Namis merely as a "consultant," she admitted to Insight that "the person indicated as a result of the bank's investigation had an office, telephone and e-mail address at the bank."

The bank was able to determine the identity of the alleged bribe requester, she said, following the publication of an Insight exposé [see "Corruption Corrodes Development Banks," Oct. 15-28]. "Using the bank's technical resources, IDB investigators quickly identified the author and recipient of the e-mails quoted in your article and also obtained copies of the e-mails. In addition, the bank obtained additional documents, records and witness statements as the result of the investigation."

Despite Liévano de Marques' portrayal of bank investigators speedily fingering the alleged culprit, her account did not address the question, as reported to Insight by one senior bank official, of how Namis' final bank consultancy involved work with the Office of the Auditor General, the department charged with overseeing IDB anticorruption efforts.

One casualty of the corruption scandal, bank officials say, is likely to be William Taylor, who has served as the IDB's auditor general for 20 years. Taylor, who has long since passed the bank's mandatory retirement age of 62, has stayed on at the personal request of Iglesias.

Close observers have told Insight that they are flummoxed over why Iglesias continues to view Taylor's service as "invaluable," pointing out that the auditor general's office has for some time shown the symptoms of long-in-the-tooth management. That image, and the reality of ongoing problems at the bank involving fraud and abuse of power, they say, contradicts Iglesias' own pronouncements about the need for vigorous safeguards against internal corruption.

In addition to questions about the reports of Namis' latest employment in Taylor's shop, longtime bank insiders note that other serious issues have arisen involving the auditor general's office. These include allegations of failure to conduct adequate background checks on office employees, excessive and redundant travel ("official tourism"), and reported nepotism.

In a letter to Insight, Liévano de Marques said the bank "would welcome any information that you may have regarding allegations of fraud and corruption, so that we can proceed to investigate such allegations."

In the six months prior to the publication of the first exposé in early October, as well as in the following weeks, Insight has heard complaints about corruption from numerous bank staff and consultants, who say they are concerned that the situation inside the institution jeopardizes the IDB's development mission. The bank -- one of the major financiers of infrastructure projects in Latin America -- conducts its business almost free from regular outside oversight.

Some of the complaints focus on issues of personal conduct by bank management, ranging from secretaries walking in on supervisors being "Lewinskied" in their offices by consultants eager for permanent employment, to abuse of official travel by senior staff for the purpose of visiting lovers overseas. Other allegations include additional kickback schemes, the "steering" of contracts, abuse in bank-financed privatization projects and multimillion-dollar payments by the bank for projects in which myriad field-training classes are paid for but never held.

The culture of corruption at the IDB, insiders say, requires a housecleaning that goes far beyond a single referral for criminal prosecution.
Martin Edwin Andersen is a reporter for Insight.

Insight Magazine (Estados Unidos)

 


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