WASHINGTON - European officials voiced fresh concerns yesterday about World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz's leadership, increasing pressure for his resignation.
As questions mounted about Wolfowitz's ability to continue to run the poverty-fighting institution, the White House appeared to take a bit of a hands-off approach, with presidential spokesman Tony Snow directing most questions about Wolfowitz to the World Bank.
Snow reaffirmed President Bush's support for Wolfowitz, but would not say whether he is insisting to allies or others that Wolfowitz remain on the job.
The pressure stems from revelations that Wolfowitz broke bank rules in 2005 by arranging a promotion and pay increase for his girlfriend, then a World Bank employee.
Critics - including many European countries, many on the bank's staff, aid groups, and others - want Wolfowitz to resign. They contend the controversy has tarnished the institution's reputation and could hobble its ability to raise money to provide financial help to poor nations.
"What we need is a president with a good reputation and integrity," Dutch Finance Minister Wouter Bos said at a meeting of European finance officials in Brussels, Belgium, yesterday. Bos said he had serious doubts about Wolfowitz's integrity.
Belgium's finance minister, Didier Reynders, struck a similar chord, saying: "It is impossible to go around the world speaking about good governance without good governance at the World Bank."
By tradition, the World Bank has been run by an American. President Bush tapped Wolfowitz, a move that was approved by the bank's board. The United States wants to keep that tradition firmly intact.
"We still support President Wolfowitz," Snow said yesterday. But he added that Bush "is not getting directly, personally involved, to my knowledge."
A special panel at the World Bank, which had been investigating the matter for a month, found that Wolfowitz ran afoul of bank rules in securing the promotion and pay package for bank employee Shaha Riza.
Wolfowitz's attorney, Robert Bennett, stated anew yesterday that it was "terribly unfair" that Wolfowitz would not have more time to respond to the special panel's report. Bennett said Wolfowitz received more than 600 pages of materials to review Sunday night.
The bank's 24-member board of directors will decide soon what action should be taken, if any.
Wolfowitz, formerly the No. 2 official at the Department of Defense, has maintained that he acted in good faith in arranging Riza's pay package and has accused his critics of launching a "smear campaign" against him.
Riza worked for the bank before Wolfowitz took over in June 2005. She was moved to the State Department to avoid a conflict of interest, but stayed on the bank's payroll. Her salary went from close to $133,000 to $180,000. With subsequent raises, it eventually rose to $193,590.