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A war of words over the future of IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva is likely to come to a head in the next few days as the fund’s board meets to examine allegations that she manipulated data to favour China in a previous role.
The allegations pertain to her time as chief executive of the World Bank, a position she left to take the top job at the IMF in October 2019. A report commissioned by the bank’s board found her responsible for falsifying China’s scores in three business indicators so as to move it up the rankings in the 2018 edition of the bank’s widely followed annual Doing Business report.
Georgieva has rejected the report’s findings and denied any wrongdoing.
On Thursday, a group of 331 former World Bank employees wrote to the bank’s board describing the “unprecedented reputational risks” generated by the report, the result of investigations by law firm WilmerHale.
“These findings must be addressed by the bank’s management and board with decisive and substantive action to restore public confidence that the bank’s data and resulting statistical products are free from political and strategic manipulation,” they wrote.
“Otherwise, public trust in our institution’s operations, practices, and policies will erode.”
The signatories to the letter, seen by the Financial Times, include one former managing director, two former executive directors and four former vice-presidents of the bank, along with several other former senior bank officials.
The actions described by WilmerHale, they wrote, “constitute a form of institutional corruption” and “represent gross abuse of management oversight authority”.
A spokesperson for Georgieva said: “Kristalina has made the cause of multilateralism her life’s work. She has acted with integrity to support the institutions she’s served and will not be deterred by these false allegations.”
The IMF has stopped taking questions from journalists about Georgieva’s time at the World Bank, referring them to a public relations agency, SKDK, retained by her.
SKDK has distributed a series of statements in Georgieva’s support in recent days, including two collections of tweets by prominent women and national leaders, and a statement by 16 African finance ministers issued on Saturday.
“The allegations surrounding the World Bank’s 2018 Doing Business report are serious and should be investigated,” the ministers wrote. “However, we also believe this should be done in a manner that does not undermine the integrity of the IMF and most of all, must allow for a fair and just process.”
The ministers praised Georgieva for her “integrity, energy and progressive advice” and for her role in providing $30bn to African economies during 2020 in the form of IMF lending.
Georgieva has rejected the allegations in the WilmerHale report, saying she disagreed fundamentally with its findings and implications and that it was “not true” that she had pressured anybody to doctor the Doing Business reports.
She has not publicly addressed the detail of the allegations out of respect, she said, for the IMF board’s review of the affair. The board is expected to question lawyers at WilmerHale about the report on Monday and to hear Georgieva’s account of the events it describes on Tuesday.
The affair has come at what is traditionally the busiest time of the year for both the IMF and the World Bank, as they prepare for their joint annual meetings due to begin on October 11.