April 24, 2007 / 10:05 PM / 10 years ago

World Bank committee rejects Wolfowitz hearing

<p>World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz arrives for a party following the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington April 21, 2007. A special committee looking into Wolfowitz breached rules by approving a promotion for his girlfriend has declined to meet with his lawyer, raising concerns it is rushing to judgment, the lawyer said on Tuesday.Jonathan Ernst/Files</p>

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A special committee looking into whether World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz breached rules by approving a promotion for his girlfriend has declined to meet with his lawyer, raising concerns it is rushing to judgment, the lawyer said on Tuesday.

"I have heard indirectly they will not meet with me, which is very disappointing and it raises questions about whether Mr. Wolfowitz is really going to be treated fairly," the lawyer, Robert Bennett, told Reuters.

"I hope it doesn't mean that, but I am concerned," said Bennett, a high-profile lawyer whose clients have included former president Bill Clinton.

Bennett said he was worried there was a "rush to judgment" over Wolfowitz, whose appointment to the presidency in mid-2004 was controversial because he was a U.S. deputy defense secretary and architect of the war in Iraq.

Wolfowitz has apologized for his handling of the promotion and pay rise for Shaha Riza, who was moved by the bank to a job at the State Department after an ethics committee raised potential conflict of interest issues.

The bank's staff association has said the high-paying promotion broke bank rules and called for Wolfowitz to resign, while some European member countries have questioned whether he should keep his job.

The U.S. government has backed Wolfowitz and urged leading European countries to withhold judgment until the World Bank's 24-nation board decides on his future.

The board appointed the committee last week to consider conflict of interest, ethical and reputation issues, amid concerns among members that the controversy would damage the reputation of the poverty-fighting agency.

The countries have urged a speedy resolution.

Board sources told Reuters there was no need for lawyers since the committee was looking into "administrative procedures and not legal issues."

Bennett said on Monday he was worried the committee would base its decisions on selective documents and that Wolfowitz's side of the story deserved a hearing.

He also said the bank's treatment of Riza was "grossly unfair" because she had not been given the chance to defend herself properly.

In Ottawa, Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty cautioned the board should be allowed to complete its work.

"I've discussed this issue with a number of the members of the World Bank ... there are some differences of opinion but I think we share with a number of countries that we believe in due process," Flaherty told reporters in Ottawa.

PROMISES OF CHANGE

In an e-mail to staff on Tuesday, Wolfowitz appealed for patience and said he was making "major changes" to address concerns over his management.

"I understand the importance of coming to closure - in a timely manner - on the issue involving me, and would ask for your continued patience in allowing time for the Board to do its work," Wolfowitz said.

Trying to mend rifts with staff, Wolfowitz said he had met with the bank's regional vice presidents who were "candid in their feedback to me on the challenges facing the bank and I appreciate this."

Among the changes that Wolfowitz has promised is the role of aides he brought with him to the bank from the Pentagon and White House, Kevin Kellems and Robin Cleveland.

Wolfowitz has acknowledged tensions among bank staff over the aides, whose appointments raised concerns that he relied on his own inner circle for advice.

In the e-mail, Wolfowitz urged staff to focus on their work: "We have an enormous agenda of work ahead of us over the coming months, including projected delivery of some 180 projects and a big corporate agenda which requires the full energy of each of you."

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