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13/12/2002 | IDB in Stunning About-Face

Martin Edwin Andersen

The case of a former senior official at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) 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 prosecution, Insight has learned.

 

IDB officials confirmed that the bank has cancelled an ongoing consultancy contract with Armando Namis, a retired bank employee and friend of IDB President Enrique Iglesias. They also said that Namis' case was referred to the U.S. Justice Department on the recommendation of the IDB's Committee on Fraud and Corruption. According to one senior bank official, Namis' last contract with the bank involved work with the Office of the Auditor General, the department charged with overseeing IDB anticorruption efforts. If true, sources tell Insight, that fact could complicate matters for the IDB's aging auditor general, William Taylor, whose office is under increasing scrutiny for what some bank officials say is its lethargic performance.

Taylor has been kept on well beyond the IDB's mandatory 62-year retirement age, these sources say, at the express request of Iglesias. In an interview with this magazine before Insight began reporting this story, Taylor dismissed out of hand the possibility that such a kickback scheme existed.

Taylor did not respond to an Insight request for information about Namis, the investigation of the alleged bribery and his office's role in it. Insight also failed in its repeated efforts to reach Namis for comment. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office declined to comment pending further review of the case.

One senior bank official told Insight that the auditor general's office reconstructed the e-mail communications between Namis and the consultant based on the information contained in the original article. He confirmed previous reports that both employee e-mail and telephone records are being monitored at the bank.

The alleged kickback scheme first was disclosed in an October Insight article [see "Corruption Corrodes Development Banks," Oct. 15-28]. Insight reproduced several e-mail communications allegedly exchanged between Namis and a long-term bank consultant in which the bank employee demanded $5,300 in exchange for her work contracts. Bank insiders said the kickback incident was one of several in which Namis allegedly participated. In order to protect the identity of the person who reportedly paid the bribe money in exchange for work, Insight blocked out both her name and that of Namis from the e-mails published with the article.

Since the story appeared, several bank sources have told Insight that the kickback scheme was just one of as many as a half-dozen such illegal operations believed to have occurred in recent years at the bank. Taylor told the magazine in August that investigations of some of these complaints did not bear fruit.

In an e-mail communication sent Wednesday evening to IDB employees, IDB external relations adviser Mirna Liévano de Marques attempted to minimize Namis' longstanding relationship with the bank, referring to him as "a consultant who had sent communications using an IDB e-mail address." In fact, bank employees told Insight at the time of the alleged kickback scheme, Namis retained an office at the bank, as well as a telephone line and e-mail address.

The admission by Liévano de Marques nonetheless was a stunning about-face from earlier bank responses to allegations of wrongdoing by IDB officials. In a recent letter to the magazine [see correspondence, Dec. 10-23], Liévano de Marques claimed, "We know from our internal controls and constant monitoring that these allegations are unfounded."

A May 8, 2000, e-mail -- allegedly sent by Namis to the consultant -- offered an explicit threat about the consequences in store if she did not pay up: "Since you did not stop by my office as you said, I want to confirm what I told you by telephone: You still owe me $5,300, which I hope you will pay me immediately. If you don't, I will have to take very unpleasant steps. I expect your reply immediately."

After the consultant responded, asking Namis how he came up with the $5,300 figure, he replied in a second e-mail the following day from his office at IDB headquarters in Washington: "I waited [for you] until the last moment during your stay in Washington last week in order to clear up several matters personally. One of the things I had to talk to you about is the money that you owe: the 10 percent from the current contracts and the late payments from previous contracts. The consequences of not paying, or of more late payments, will be, I repeat, very disagreeable."

Bank officials admit that the expanding scandal and questions about the role of the auditor general's office are likely to provide continuing headaches for the beleaguered Iglesias, who recently was re-elected unanimously to a new five-year term. Senior officials tell Insight that travel records and hiring practices may add to the Uruguayan's problems.

Martin Edwin Andersen is a reporter for Insight.

Insight Magazine (Estados Unidos)

 


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