WASHINGTON – World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz publicly apologized Thursday for the “mistake” of personally orchestrating a high-paying job and guaranteed promotions for a bank employee with whom he is romantically involved, as new details of his role in the arrangement emerged and staff members angrily demanded his resignation.
Wolfowitz attempted to address about 200 staffers gathered in the bank’s central atrium but left after some began hissing, booing and chanting: “Resign. … Resign.” He had approached the gathering after holding a news conference in which he said, “I made a mistake for which I am sorry.”
Wolfowitz suggested that his critics might be motivated in part by opposition to the role he played as an architect of President Bush’s Iraq war policy. Wolfowitz served as Deputy secretary of Defense before taking over the World Bank in 2005.
Bank insiders confirmed reports from the bank’s staff association that Wolfowitz directed personnel officials to give Shaha Riza, his longtime companion, an automatic “outstanding” rating and the highest possible pay raises during an indefinite posting at the State Department, as well as a promotion upon her return to the bank. The Financial Times reported portions of the agreement Thursday.
When he took over as bank president in June 2005, Wolfowitz resisted complying with conflict-of-interest rules and insisted not only that Riza – then a senior communications officer at the bank – retain her job but also that he maintain “ongoing professional contact” with her, according to a knowledgeable source who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the legal issues involved.
But the bank ethics committee ruled that she had to leave the institution. It agreed to give her a predeparture promotion to compensate for the career disruption. Until Thursday, Wolfowitz and his aides had insisted that “all arrangements concerning Shaha Riza were made at the direction of the bank’s board of directors.” Bank sources said, however, that neither the board nor the ethics committee was aware of the terms of the final agreement.
“I take full responsibility for the details of the agreement and did not attempt to hide my actions or to make anyone else responsible,” Wolfowitz said Thursday. He said that he had found himself in a “painful personal dilemma … trying to navigate in uncharted waters.”
Riza left the State Department last year for a position at the U.S. government-funded Foundation for the Future. She remains on the bank payroll with a net salary of $193,590. Although the relationship between Wolfowitz and Riza – a Tunisian-born British citizen – and her eventual State Department posting were publicly known in 2005, the current controversy arose late last month after the Washington Post reported on her compensation package.