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15/01/2003 | IDB Frustrates U.S. Justice?

Martin Edwin Andersen

Despite a Dec. 11 claim by Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) President Enrique Iglesias that an alleged kickback scheme run by a longtime bank employee was being referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution, the prosecutors' office says that it is still waiting to receive the case.

 

First reported by Insight [see "Corruption Corrodes Development Banks," Oct. 1], the corruption allegations originally were denied by bank officials who -- even after subsequent investigation appeared to confirm the charges -- sought to minimize the ties the alleged bribe taker, Armando Namis, maintained in the institution. A retired bank officer whose last consultancy was with IDB Auditor General William Taylor's office, Namis' contract was terminated only after Insight published the results of its investigation. Now observers are questioning whether IDB officials intend to redeem their promise to submit alleged wrongdoing to the U.S. justice system or are hoping to avoid doing so after the initial scandal dies down.

"In light of the evidence that was obtained during the investigation -- including documents, records and witness testimony -- and on the basis of a recommendation from the [IBD Oversight Committee on Fraud and Corruption]," Iglesias wrote in an all-staff circular last month, "I have asked the legal department, in conjunction with the outside law firm that was retained, to refer this matter to the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia."

However, on Tuesday afternoon, Channing Phillips, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said that "nothing has been received to date from the bank." Consulted in late December on the status of the referral, the U.S. Attorney's Office said that slow mail resulting from the 2001 anthrax panic might have been the cause of the delay in receiving the case.

However, IDB insiders tell Insight that there has been a debate within the bank about whether to follow through on the referral. The conflict centers on whether the bank will be the target of an open-ended corruption investigation if the referral takes place. On Dec. 26, Insight reported [see the watchers, Dec. 26] that outside referrals to the Justice Department office can result in allegations of corruption other than those referred also being looked at by a grand jury if one decides to pick up the case. Bank insiders say that a decision by IDB officials not to move forward with the referral may reflect an unwillingness to open up the bank to a wider probe.

Meanwhile, sources inside the U.S. Attorney's Office say that the IDB historically has been reluctant to cooperate with their office, contrasting the attitude of one of Latin America's largest providers of investment capital to that of the much larger World Bank under President James Wolfensohn. The World Bank has, in recent years, made several criminal referrals involving allegations of internal corruption, they note.

The unwillingness of IDB officials to allow U.S. authorities jurisdiction in matters involving its staff also appears to extend to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests made for U.S. Treasury and Commerce Department files kept by U.S. government officials working for those institutions inside the bank. In response to several FOIA requests concerning what U.S. officials knew about allegations of internal corruption 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.

According to one well-placed source, bank officials have told the Commerce Department that it cannot hand over any bank-generated documents in responding to FOIA requests even if these are in the files of Treasury or Commerce officials at the bank. "Apparently there are IDB documents that the Commerce officials have that the IDB would not like to see made public," the source speculates.

According to Commerce FOIA spokeswoman Linda Bell, FOIA requests of U.S. government employees at the bank present a "unique situation," as the IDB considers itself a "sovereign entity."

Bell says, "We're trying to sort out who has responsibility for what," adding that the matter is now in the hands of department attorneys.

Insight called three IDB press officials for comment on the status of the Namis case and the bank's stand on FOIA issues. None of the three were available for comment.

Martin Edwin Andersen is a reporter for Insight.

Insight Magazine (Estados Unidos)

 


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