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Inquiry finds World Bank officials, including now-I.M.F. chief, pushed staff to inflate China data.

todaySeptember 16, 2021 2

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WASHINGTON — An investigation into manipulation of an annual World Bank report has found that Kristalina Georgieva, the bank’s former chief executive, who now leads the International Monetary Fund, directed staff to alter data to placate China.

The findings of the investigation, which was conducted by the law firm WilmerHale at the request of the bank’s ethics committee, raised questions about the judgment of Ms. Georgieva during her time at the World Bank and underscored the pressure that the bank has been under to accommodate China, its third-largest shareholder after the United States and Japan.

The investigation focused on accusations that top bank officials pressured the team that conducts the Doing Business survey to inflate China’s standing in its 2018 report. There also were accusations that the 2020 report was manipulated to artificially bolster Saudi Arabia’s ranking.

The Doing Business report assesses the business climate in countries around the world. Developing countries in particular care deeply about their rankings, which they use to lure foreign investment.

At the time of the reported manipulation, World Bank officials were concerned about negotiations with members over a capital increase and were under pressure not to anger China, which was ranked 78th on the list of countries in 2017 and was set to decline in the 2018 report.

According to the investigation, the staff of Jim Yong Kim, then the bank’s president, held meetings to find ways to improve China’s ranking. Ms. Georgieva also got involved, working with a top aide to develop a way to make China look better without affecting the rankings of other countries.

The investigation found that Ms. Georgieva was “directly involved” with efforts to improve China’s ranking and at one point chastised the bank’s China director for mismanaging the bank’s relationship with the country.

Bank officials considered including Hong Kong, which once had relative independence that China has been trying to minimize, in its analysis of China’s business climate and giving more emphasis to Beijing and Shanghai. Ultimately, the staff of the survey gave China more credit for its new secured transactions law, and China’s ranking did not sink.

In late October 2017, before the report was published, Ms. Georgieva drove to the home of the official in charge of the Doing Business team to pick up a hard copy of the report. According to the investigation, she thanked the official for helping to “resolve the problem” of China’s ranking. Ms. Georgieva, who was interviewed for the investigation, said she could not recall why she felt the need to personally pick up the report rather than have it brought to her office.

Ms. Georgieva has been the managing director of the I.M.F. since October 2019. In that role, she oversees a vast amount of economic research and is responsible for deploying billions of dollars of financing to countries around the world.

The Treasury Department expressed concern over the allegations.

“These are serious findings and Treasury is analyzing the report,” said Alexandra LaManna, a Treasury spokeswoman. “Our primary responsibility is to uphold the integrity of international financial institutions.”

In a statement, Ms. Georgieva denied accusations that she had acted inappropriately.

“I disagree fundamentally with the findings and interpretations,” Ms. Georgieva said. “I have already had an initial briefing with the I.M.F.’s executive board on this matter.”

A World Bank spokesman said the report spoke for itself.

The bank said Thursday that it is discontinuing its annual Doing Business survey.

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todaySeptember 16, 2021