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IMF chief Georgieva says data-rigging scandal won't hamper IMF-World Bank cooperation

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WASHINGTON, Oct 13 (Reuters) - International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva on Wednesday distanced herself and the fund from a data-rigging scandal involving her former employer, the World Bank, but said she did not expect the saga to hamper decades of close collaboration between the two institutions.

Georgieva, who was cleared of wrongdoing in the matter by the IMF's executive board on Monday, had sharply criticized a report prepared by law firm WilmerHale for the World Bank's board, and the decision to make its findings public.

The law firm's investigative report alleged that Georgieva and other senior World Bank officials applied "undue pressure" on bank staff to make changes to boost China's ranking in the bank's 2018 business climate report.

Georgieva vehemently denied the accusations, and she and her lawyer faulted WilmerHale for not telling her she was a subject of the probe.

Some of her backers, including Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz called the report a "hatchet job" by World Bank President David Malpass, and Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, called for Congress to investigate Malpass's actions in the matter.

Malpass has not commented on the probe's targeting of Georgieva, saying only that the report speaks for itself. The bank also canceledthe Doing Business report, and is now implementing reforms aimed at ensuring research integrity.

Georgieva, a longtime World Bank official, on Tuesday insisted in an interview with Reuters that the data issues were limited to the bank's controversial Doing Business series, and had nothing to do with the work of the fund.

"Look for the problem. It is on the other side of 19th Street," she told reporters on Wednesday, a reference to the Washington address of both institutions.

At the same time, she underscored her belief that the controversy would not harm strong ties between the two.

"I love the bank, and I love the fund," she said, adding, "This is a twin institutional setup that has delivered for the members. ... We have major, major challenges, where our institutions are best at addressing and working together."

Those included efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing high debt levels among developing countries and joint work on financial sector assessments.

The World Bank underscored its commitment to a "constructive relationship" and said it looked forward to productive meetings this week with IMF colleagues and its members on urgent challenges facing developing countries, including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and high debt levels.

Georgieva brushed aside questions on whether a proposed new IMF Resilience and Sustainability Trust overlapped with the mandate of the World Bank, saying that fund officials were working closely with their bank counterparts in developing the new instrument.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Andrea Ricci
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