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Shaha Riza’s Clean -That’ll Be $500,000

Shaha Riza, the career-long proponent of Middle-East democracy, has been cleared of the nonsensical charge brought against her at the height of the loathsome World Bank power play that so delighted everyone this year. (That is, delighted everyone except the … Read More

By / December 18, 2007

Shaha Riza, the career-long proponent of Middle-East democracy, has been cleared of the nonsensical charge brought against her at the height of the loathsome World Bank power play that so delighted everyone this year. (That is, delighted everyone except the needy folks who would have benefited had Riza’s partner Paul Wolfowitz not been ousted from the charitable body.) And no one knows. The “scandal’s” main event was the allegation that Wolfowitz, in his capacity as World Bank president, had broken bank rules and taken it upon himself to promote Riza, a bank employee, and give her a raise. With a truly chilling faith in counter-reality, almost everyone from the New York Times to heads of state refused to recognize the affair for what it was: a vengeful putsch against a proponent of the Iraq War. Wolfowitz made every dreary speck of correspondence between him and the bank a matter of public record, so that one can easily see that everything he did in regard to Riza’s promotion and raise was done not only with the bank’s consent, but usually on their recommendation as well. Moving on. Going with the “if you tell a big enough lie people will believe you” notion, bank officials heaped additional muck on Riza. This in the form of insinuation about a trip she made to work on Iraqi democracy and civil society in 2003. Then-bank President James Wolfensohn okayed Shaha Riza’a month-long unpaid trip to Iraq. Here’s The Wall Street Journal on what followed:

Thus did matters stand until the phony Wolfowitz scandal blew up this spring. On April 18, the Washington Post ran a story under the headline, "Defense Eyes Wolfowitz Friend's Contract." The same day, National Public Radio followed up with "Wolfowitz Faces New Allegations of Favoritism," quoting Ms. Riza's former supervisor, Jean-Louis Sarbib, saying the trip was "unusual and not terribly above board." Graeme Wheeler, a bank managing director, also included the trip among the reasons for his widely publicized demand at the time that Mr. Wolfowitz resign. The very next day, however, Reuters reported that in 2005 the Pentagon's Inspector General had looked into Ms. Riza's trip and found there was "insufficient basis to warrant further investigation." The IG noted that Ms. Riza, who has long experience working with Arab reformers and is fluent in Arabic and Turkish, among other languages, was uniquely well qualified for the position. The New York Times confirmed the substance of the Reuters story on April 20, adding that the IG had found that then-Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz had "not exerted improper influence in Ms. Riza's hiring." Oddly, the Times chose to run this news under the misleading headline "Wolfowitz Backed Friend for Iraq Contract in '03.

Nonetheless, then Bank vice president for human resources Xavier Coll, hired a Canadian law firm to investigate the “approval process” for Riza's trip. The Journal adds, “Mr. Coll is known to readers of this page for the dishonest account he gave of his role in authorizing Ms. Riza's raise.” Recently, the paper called and spoke to a bank representative. The investigation had been completed and they found "no basis to conclude misconduct occurred.” From the Journal: “The tab for this fishing expedition? The bank won't say, and Goodmans [the law firm] didn't return our calls. But a source estimates the cost to the bank runs north of $500,000.” The organization charged with determining the most beneficial way in which to distribute aid to the world’s neediest burned half a million dollars on a side dish of slime just to ensure the purging of Paul Wolfowitz. I don’t know what’s most sickening: the self-satisfied relish with which the world’s least needy applauded this spectacle or the fact that Riza’s name was cleared in a media vacuum. Actually, neither. My vote goes to the pathetic paralytic state of despot-coddling the bank so easily resumed after Wolfowitz was gone.

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