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22/12/2002 | Mikulski Demands Answers From IDB

Martin Edwin Andersen

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), a member of the Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over multilateral development banks, has demanded answers from Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) President Enrique Iglesias. The issue: allegations of corruption at the bank.

 

In a letter dated Dec. 13, Mikulski noted that Plexus Consulting Group LLC, a Washington, D.C.-based firm, has encountered "a number of problems" in providing services to an IDB-financed project in Panama. As first reported by Insight (see "Business Gets Murky With IDB," Dec. 10-23), Plexus President Steven Worth has charged that the bank was party to contract fraud and other abuses.

"These issues should be resolved in an expeditious, thorough and unbiased manner," Mikulski told Iglesias. "Please let me know how the IDB has investigated the issues brought to your attention by Plexus and keep me informed of your progress in resolving them."

Mikulski noted that she has "consistently supported" the taxpayer-supported IDB, one of the major financiers of infrastructure projects in Latin America. She added, "To continue this support, the [Appropriations] Committee must have confidence that these funds are used effectively and appropriately."

The Mikulski letter came as sources close to the investigation claimed that the bank was preparing to wash its hands of the dispute in an effort to limit its exposure to potential fallout from the case. In a Dec. 10 letter, IDB Deputy Auditor General Fernando A. Fernandez told Worth he had until Friday, Dec. 13 to meet with bank investigators as "we [the auditor general's office] are ready to conclude our investigation and prepare our report."

Worth, however, is reported to be unhappy with the truncated probe of his allegations. In a Dec. 17 letter to Gene Harris, director of the U.S. Commercial Liaison Office at the IDB, Worth said that, in prior conversations with him, Harris "asserted that a 'consultant from a well-known consulting firm' was hired to review" the case. 

Worth pointed out that in an Oct. 16 letter from Harris to IDB Auditor General William Taylor: "You [the auditor general's office] were going to determine if an outside contractor had been obtained to review [the Plexus work project] and, if so, to ensure that this contractor would be objective. If no outside contractor had been selected, your office would take action to secure an objective outside contractor. This was to be done within the next one to two weeks, as you would move the Plexus matter to a high priority."

In Fernandez's letter to Worth, however, the former categorically denied that the auditor general's office ever had said that an outside consultant would be hired. "We have never represented to anyone," Fernandez claimed, "that our office had retained the services of a consultant or consulting firm to investigate your allegations."

Questions about Plexus' experience with bank-financed projects appear tailor-made to raise additional congressional concerns when the representatives reconvene next year.

Martin Edwin Andersen is a reporter for Insight.

Insight Magazine (Estados Unidos)

 



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