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World Bank investigates $1 billion China loan

An employee walks outside the World Bank headquarters in Washington, United States.
Win McNamee | Getty Images
An employee walks outside the World Bank headquarters in Washington, United States.

The World Bank has launched an investigation into its handling of a $1 billion loan from China after the bank's treasurer queried whether the process may have violated bank rules.

External lawyers have been hired to lead the probe into the transaction, which was endorsed by the chief financial officer, and the outcome is due to be handed to the bank's leadership this week. In a note to staff on Tuesday Jim Yong Kim, the president, said "there has been no suggestion of any staff misconduct".

But the questions over the loan, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal, are the latest to confront Mr Kim, the American whose leadership has been dogged by questions over his management style and a massive restructuring that has left many staff on edge.

The controversy also pits Bertrand Badré, the World Bank's chief financial officer whose generous bonus had angered staff, against the bank's treasurer, Madelyn Antoncic.

At question is how the bank processed a $1 billion loan from China in 2013 that came as part of the World Bank's regular fundraising for the International Development Association, the fund used to back its work with poor countries.

The transaction was one of five low-interest loans given by donors to the IDA.

But rather than simply take $1 billion into the fund, the arrangement with Beijing included a complex transaction with the International Finance Corporation, the bank's private sector arm. The IFC since 2012 has been led by Jin-Yong Cai, a Chinese national who once led Goldman Sachs' operations in China.

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According to bank officials, because China did not have the right mechanism in place to make its own concessional loans its $1 billion loan was made at market rates. But Beijing also gave a $300 million grant to the bank on top of the $1 billion to help reduce the World Bank's borrowing costs.

With those funds the IDA bought a $1.179 billion bond from the IFC that ensured the loan from China would be repaid over 25 years.

That transaction prompted Ms Antoncic and her staff to raise questions about its structure and whether the approval process had been proper.

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A senior official said the World Bank had brought in outside lawyers to look at the case because it involved two internal units and questions over its processes.

Mr Badré was involved because "he is the person that ultimately approved that transaction".

"Nobody has raised any issues of misconduct nor has anyone raised any issues about preferential treatment for China," the official said.

"Nobody is questioning that China in any way acted in bad faith or is benefiting from this transaction . . . It's a very technical review."