WASHINGTON – World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged Thursday that he erred in helping a close female friend get transferred to a high-paying job. "I made a mistake for which I am sorry," he said.
The growing controversy has overshadowed major development meetings this weekend and is raising fresh questions about whether Wolfowitz will stay on the job.
At issue is the generous compensation of a bank employee, Shaha Riza, who has dated Wolfowitz. She was given an assignment at the State Department in September 2005, shortly after he became bank president.
"In hindsight I wish I had trusted my original instincts and kept myself out of the negotiations," Wolfowitz said.
He said he met Thursday morning with the World Bank's board and that members were looking into the matter. He declined to discuss what actions, if any, the board could take.
"I proposed to the board that they establish some mechanism to judge whether the agreement reached was a reasonable outcome," he said, referring to Riza's transfer. "I will accept any remedies they propose."
Wolfowitz dodged a question about whether he would resign over the flap.
"I take full responsibility for the details. I did not attempt to hide my actions nor make anyone else responsible," he said.
A World Bank spokeswoman would not comment on what range of options the board could consider and did not know when the board would finish its deliberations on the matter.
The Government Accountability Project, a watchdog group, estimated Riza's salary at $193,590 as a result of the job transfer and pay raises. The group says she was paid by the World Bank and remains on the bank's payroll. The situation has brought accusations of favoritism from the bank's staff association.
Riza had worked as a communications adviser in the bank's Middle East Department before she took the assignment outside the bank. Rules bar employees from supervising anyone with whom they had a personal relationship.
The State Department says she left in September 2006 and now works for Foundation for the Future, an international organization that gets some money from the department.
The World Bank would not comment on Riza's compensation, citing confidentiality concerns.