Wolfowitz Faces New Allegations of Favoritism
World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz's bid to keep his job is becoming increasingly difficult amid new allegations related to work his girlfriend, bank employee Shaha Riza, did for a private contractor as the United States was preparing to invade Iraq.
In March of 2003, Pentagon contractor Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) hired Riza — while she still worked at the World Bank — for month-long assignment that included travel to Iraq. Officials at SAIC say they were told by the Defense Department to hire her.
At the time, Wolfowitz was deputy secretary of defense for the U.S.
Riza's supervisor, World Bank Vice President Jean-Louis Sarbib, says the circumstances surrounding the SAIC job were not transparent.
"I thought she had done this on a volunteer basis on her own time. I did not know anything about a contract with that firm," Sarbib, who is responsible for the Bank's Middle East and North Africa Region, said. "This was unusual and not terribly above board."
The assignment may have violated conflict of interest rules for World Bank employees.
"If you take contractual obligations with somebody else [outside the World Bank], there's something called the Committee on Outside Interests that has to pass judgment as to whether or not this is a potential conflict of interest," Sarbib said. "And I am not aware that there was any such request."
Riza's attorney Victoria Toensing says that her client did nothing wrong. She adds that James Wolfensohn, who was then president of the World Bank, welcomed the trip, and even asked Riza to brief members of the bank's executive board.
Toensing says Riza took an unpaid leave of absence from the World Bank for the assignment, giving up more than $10,000 in salary and benefits. SAIC confirms that Riza asked not to be paid, just reimbursed for expenses.
But critics say this isn't just bureaucratic nit picking.
"The real issue is, what is her role here?" said Bea Edwards, with watchdog group Government Accountability Project. She says revelations like this are damaging to the World Bank.
"How is she reconciling the fact that she is an international civil servant in one position ... while she is [also] a contractor for the Pentagon [as it prepares for war]?" Edwards asked.
The bank did not answer repeated requests for information on Riza's trip to Iraq. Riza's attorney says her client is being smeared as part of a vendetta against Wolfowitz, an architect of the war in Iraq.
Wolfowitz has already apologized for giving Riza a promotion and unusually large pay increase just before her transfer to the State Department in 2005. That apparent act of favoritism earned Wolfowitz heavy criticism from the international community.
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