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28/01/2003 | German Director Demands That IDB Answer Corruption Allegations

Martin Edwin Andersen

A powerful member of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) board of directors, representing five European countries and Israel, has taken the lead in demanding that bank officials begin examining allegations of wrongdoing first reported by Insight.

 

According to the well-placed source, Michaela Zintl -- the executive director for Belgium, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland -- has been asking hard questions that have made senior bank officials very uncomfortable. "Zintl is the one director who has been asking pointed questions after publication of the Insight articles," this source says.

"Several directors have tried to get debriefed and find out what is going on," Zintl confirmed when contacted by Insight. "We want to know how serious these issues are. It is very, very important that these matters are investigated."

Zintl expressed surprise at an Insight report [see "IDB Frustrates U.S. Justice?" posted Jan. 15 on Insight Online] that the U.S. Attorneys Office for the District of Columbia had not received the referral of a former longtime bank official accused of running a jobs-for-money kickback scheme, as IDB President Enrique Iglesias had promised on Dec. 11. "The impression we were given at the time was that it was to be effected in the next day or two -- that it was imminent," she says.

Zintl, a Bonn native who has been at the IDB for the last year-and-a-half, says she is interested in the contents of three questionnaires sent by Insight to the bank's external-affairs office about a variety of allegations involving corrupt practices by some within the IDB, including cover-ups of alleged wrongdoing. Bank insiders say that although the questionnaires sent to a variety of bank officials were shared with Iglesias' office, the board of directors apparently has remained in the dark about their existence.

The first questionnaire was sent to the bank weeks ago. However, neither the external-affairs office nor those individuals specifically mentioned in them -- all of whom received separate e-mails containing the questions that pertained to them -- have responded. Despite several requests from Insight to IDB external-relations adviser Mirna Liévano de Marques requesting cooperation, sources say that the external-affairs office has told people not to respond to the questions.

"I probably would tell the staff not to respond, too," says Zintl, putting herself in the role of external-relations adviser. "But I certainly would want to respond to the accusations."

Meanwhile, several IDB sources who spoke to Insight on condition that they not be identified have said that the bank often has invoked claims of sovereign immunity regarding cooperation with U.S. law-enforcement agencies and with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for files held by U.S. government officials working at the bank. Some critics of the IDB believe this is a flawed stance.

In fact, sources close to the FBI tell Insight that they have received little cooperation from the IDB in the past when investigating allegations of wrongdoing involving bank staff. In response to several FOIA requests concerning what U.S. officials knew about allegations of internal corruption and when they knew it at the U.S. taxpayer-supported bank, sources tell Insight that IDB officials have raised "sovereignty issues" in seeking to block full compliance with the U.S. public-information law.

IDB officials and others claiming to represent the bank have denied ever thwarting or otherwise blocking investigations by any entity probing allegations of wrongdoing. They also have suggested that they are quick to pounce on such alleged wrongdoing and send cases to local authorities for follow-up investigation and prosecution.

Yet the debate inside the IDB seems uncertain as to such issues, Insight is told. Apparently IDB officials generally think that the bank does enjoy sovereign immunity, and thus is not subject to U.S. laws. At the same time, Insight is told, because the IDB has been a regular borrower in international capital markets for a long time it must comply with checks and balances over its creditworthiness claims.

For example, its securities are rated "triple A" with a stable outlook by both Moody's and Standard & Poor's -- benchmarks for creditworthiness on the international bond market. "The bank voluntarily resigns its immunity when it suits its purposes," one former IDB senior official tells Insight. "For example, when it goes to the bond market, it gives up such claims -- otherwise they couldn't collect a cent."

Also, sources point out that the bank's own administrative tribunal has issued rulings citing international covenants requiring compliance with host-country laws. "The Vienna conventions on diplomatic relations (1961) and on consular relations (1963) provide that in the case of locally hired employees, the obligations imposed on employers by the laws of the host state must be observed," the tribunal ruled last year in the case of Rita Olvido Goyzueta Ballock v. IDB.

Meanwhile, questions continue to mount over allegations of wrongdoing at the bank and attempts to downplay them both internally and publicly. Zintl tells Insight, however, that she is not alone in wanting to get to the bottom of whatever is going on. Better to determine who or what to exonerate or punish than to ignore claims of wrongdoing, she and others tell the magazine.

Martin Edwin Andersen is a reporter for Insight.

Insight Magazine (Estados Unidos)

 


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