Ex-Im internal watchdog finds no proof of systemic corruption

WASHINGTON Tue Jul 29, 2014 6:18pm EDT

Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, testifies before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on ''Oversight and Reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States'' on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 28, 2014. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Fred Hochberg, chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, testifies before a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on ''Oversight and Reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank of the United States'' on Capitol Hill in Washington on January 28, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - There is currently no evidence of widespread fraud within the U.S. Export-Import Bank, its internal watchdog said, as critics of the bank flagged a wider probe of corruption claims.

Three Ex-Im employees have been dismissed and another suspended amid investigations into allegations of gifts and kickbacks, cases which could lead to criminal charges and have given ammunition to conservative lawmakers seeking the bank's closure.

But Ex-Im's inspector general, who investigates complaints about improper behavior, said although internal investigations showed some instances of ineffective management of employees, they had not found serious systemic problems.

"At this time, we have not developed evidence of widespread employee misconduct or systemic employee involvement in fraud schemes at the bank," Acting Inspector General Michael McCarthy wrote in a July 28 letter to Democrat Matthew Cartwright, which was presented during a Congressional panel hearing. "These investigations are ongoing."

Ex-Im Chairman Fred Hochberg told the hearing he had not heard of any other cases of employee corruption during his time at the bank, which he joined in 2009. Ethics training was mandatory for all staff, and all the cases involving employees were reported by other employees.

Former Ex-Im employee Johnny Gutierrez was subpoenaed to appear at the hearing but declined to answer questions. The Wall Street Journal reported in June he allegedly took cash payments in exchange for attempting to assist a Florida company to get credit to export construction equipment to Latin America.

The inspector general's office said 46 people had been convicted of defrauding the bank since 2009 and there had been 71 indictments or federal criminal charges, none involving employees. One 2010 conviction involved a former employee, but that case was investigated before the office was established, the letter said.

Republican Jim Jordan said the inspector general had told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform there were at least 40 ongoing fraud investigations at the bank.

"If that is the way in which some of the employee misconduct could be discovered ... if there are substantial number of outstanding fraud investigations, it stands to reason that there very well may be more instances of employee misconduct," Republican Ron DeSantis said.

Representative Jeb Hensarling, who is leading the charge among Republicans not to renew the bank's charter when it expires on Sept. 30, said it was important to have the full picture before deciding whether to keep the bank open and he would seek more information about the active investigations.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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