Wolfowitz Escalates Battle to Stay at Bank
WASHINGTON, April 25 — Escalating his campaign to remain president of the World Bank, Paul D. Wolfowitz accused the bank’s board on Wednesday of treating him “shabbily and unfairly,” and appealed for more time to defend himself against allegations of favoritism and other matters.
Mr. Wolfowitz, increasingly isolated at the bank and facing a board seemingly determined to force his resignation, sent a letter to the head of a board panel dealing with issues affecting his leadership, asking to appear before the board next week in the interest of “fairness to me” and “good governance” at the bank.
The letter was described by people who had seen it.
Bank officials described many on the 24-member board as having been taken aback by the tough tone of the letter but said the board appeared likely to grant Mr. Wolfowitz at least some of his request, perhaps by allowing him to appear next week, though not necessarily with his newly hired lawyer, Robert S. Bennett.
Before Wednesday, the board had seemed to be moving toward some sort of vote as early as this week on Mr. Wolfowitz’s ability to continue as president. The board met late Wednesday, but officials said it appeared unlikely to reach any quick conclusions and could put off the response to Mr. Wolfowitz until next week.
Compounding the problems for Mr. Wolfowitz, the bank’s vice presidents have rebuffed his request for them to set up a committee to advise him on improving his management style. The vice presidents did not want to be co-opted into helping his campaign to stay in office, bank officials said.
Although he appears to be more and more beleaguered, Mr. Wolfowitz attended a White House meeting on Wednesday on malaria eradication, and got a new gesture of support from President Bush.
“I appreciate very much the fact that the World Bank is taking the lead in eradicating poverty in places like Africa, and Paul Wolfowitz, thank you for your leadership of the World Bank,” Mr. Bush said, turning to his appointee.
On the other hand, evidence of European opposition to Mr. Wolfowitz continued to spread as the European Parliament, the legislature of the European Union, called on him to resign to avoid undermining the bank’s own campaign against corruption in poor countries.
At issue is Mr. Wolfowitz’s role in arranging for a pay and promotion package for Shaha Ali Riza, his companion, when he became bank president in 2005. Ms. Riza had been a bank employee for seven years and was detailed to the State Department to avoid a potential conflict of interest for Mr. Wolfowitz.
But the bank’s board is also investigating allegations that he has relied on a small coterie of aides, also with high salaries, and that he has promoted Bush administration policies in the area of family planning and climate change.
Mr. Wolfowitz’s defense has focused on demonstrating that he acted in good faith with Ms. Riza, taking a direct role in her pay raise only after being directed to do so by ethics officials at the bank and on its board. But these same officials said they never authorized him to order such a large salary increase for her.
The bank’s board had earlier signaled its disinclination to allow Mr. Bennett, a well-known Washington lawyer and deal maker, to appear with Mr. Wolfowitz or to give him the month he had requested to make his case.
The board, whose members represent various countries or groups of countries, is considering a number of options. The most extreme would be to invoke governance rules allowing the board to remove a president outright, though some officials said that was unlikely.
Alternatively, the board could reprimand Mr. Wolfowitz or call for his resignation with a kind of no-confidence vote. Another alternative would be to do nothing but negotiate with the United States, the Europeans and others for Mr. Wolfowitz to resign voluntarily.
The board members are divided, though only tactically; the majority still want him out, various officials said. The centers of opposition are in Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia and Latin America.
But the board was described as puzzled and put off by Mr. Wolfowitz’s decision, disclosed this week, to bring in Mr. Bennett, who is known as a litigator but also as someone who can make a deal in situations that seem beyond compromise.
He also negotiated a deal with a federal prosecutor last year leading to freedom for Judith Miller, a reporter for The New York Times who was jailed for refusing to testify in the investigation of a leak of the identify of Valerie Plame, a Central Intelligence Agency employee.
A top European official involved in setting bank policy said there could be a deal avoiding a censure of Mr. Wolfowitz but that it had to involve Mr. Wolfowitz leaving the bank.
“There are a lot of people at the bank asking, ‘What is Wolfowitz thinking?’ ” the official said. “It just looks like Wolfowitz is ramping up the pressure. I think the bank directors are looking for a deal to avoid a confrontation. But he’s got to go as part of it. Letting him stay is not an option.”