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Wolfowitz tries to turn the focus to bank's work

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published May 3, 2007


WASHINGTON - World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz said Wednesday that attention should be "focused on the very, very important work of the bank" and not on the investigation that has put his job in jeopardy.

His comments to a European Union-hosted meeting in Brussels came after the bank's board expressed fresh concern that the controversy over Wolfowitz's handling of pay for his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, is hurting the poverty-fighting institution's ability to do its job.

The flap has led to calls for Wolfowitz's resignation and has hurt morale among the bank's 10, 000 employees worldwide. Critics contend the bank's reputation has been damaged and its efforts to raise billions of dollars to help poor countries may be hobbled.

"The bank's work goes on, " Wolfowitz said. "It is critical, there are millions of poor people who depend on us."

The 24-member board, after meeting several hours with a special panel investigating Wolfowitz's handling of the 2005 promotion and pay package of bank employee Riza, issued a statement late Tuesday saying it is "very concerned about the impact on the work" of the poverty-fighting institution.

For the last two days, the special panel has heard from Wolfowitz, Riza and other current and former bank officials about Riza's promotion and pay raises that lifted her compensation from about $133, 000 to $193, 590.

The next step

The board said the next step is for that panel to "draw its conclusions from the information obtained from the documents and during the course of the interviews" and submit a report to the directors expeditiously.

Ultimately, the directors will decide what action should be taken, if any. The board could ask Wolfowitz to resign, signal it lacks confidence in his leadership, reprimand him or take no action. There might also be a compromise under which Wolfowitz would be found to have acted in good faith and he would resign later.

The board promised to make a decision soon.

Wolfowitz dodged questions about his fate, saying, "The board is considering this issue."

Riza had worked at the bank for eight years when Wolfowitz arrived in 2005. She was moved to the State Department to avoid a conflict of interest but stayed on the bank's payroll. Her pay increases spurred allegations among staff that Wolfowitz showed favoritism to her.

The United States is the bank's largest shareholder, and President Bush has said Wolfowitz should remain on the job. The European Parliament, many of the bank's staff, former bank officials and some Democratic politicians have called on him to resign.