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© Reuters. FILEPHOTO: An participant is seen standing near the World Bank logo at the International Monetary Fund Annual Meeting 2018. This was held in Nusa Dua Bali, Indonesia on October 12, 2018. REUTERS/Johannes P. Christo/File Photo

By Andrea Shalal and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank Group on Thursday said it ended publication of its “Doing Business” report on country investment climates after a probe of data irregularities cited “undue pressure” by top bank officials, including then-Chief Executive Kristalina Georgieva, to boost China’s ranking in 2017.

The World Bank said in a statement https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/statement/2021/09/16/world-bank-group-to-discontinue-doing-business-report that the decision came after internal audit reports had raised “ethical matters, including the conduct of former Board officials as well as current and/or former Bank staff” and a board investigation conducted by the law firm WilmerHale.

The Wilmer Hale report https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/84a922cc9273b7b120d49ad3b9e9d3f9-0090012021/original/DB-Investigation-Findings-and-Report-to-the-Board-of-Executive-Directors-September-15-2021.pdf cited “direct and indirect pressure” from senior staff in the office of then-World Bank President Jim Yong Kim to change the report’s methodology to boost China’s score, and said it likely occurred at his direction.

According to the report, Georgieva was the International Monetary Fund managing director and an adviser who pressured staff to change China’s data points and improve its ranking. This happened at a time that the bank needed China’s support to fund a large capital raise.

China’s rank in the 2018 “Doing Business 2018” report, published October 2017, has risen seven places to 78th.

Doing Business assesses the regulatory environment, ease of startup, infrastructure, and other measures that affect business climate.

“I disagree fundamentally with the findings and interpretations of the investigation of data irregularities as it relates to my role in the World Bank’s Doing Business report of 2018,” Georgieva said in a statement issued by the IMF. In a statement by the IMF, Georgieva stated that she met with members of the IMF executive board to address the issue.

WilmerHale also noted irregularities in the rankings of Saudi Arabian and Azerbaijan as part of the 2019 “Doing Business 2020” report. However, there was no evidence to suggest that members of the Bank’s Office of the president or executive boards were responsible for these modifications.

The World Bank stated that they will continue to develop a new method of assessing investment and business climate.

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