World Bank blacklist over graft soars

Lender bars more than 250 entities this year, 4 times more than last year

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 3:57am

The number of companies and people banned by the World Bank for corruption or fraud has soared this year, and the lender warns it will step up its actions against firms for such wrongdoings.

The biggest culprits were firms in Canada and the United States, while China accounted for a much smaller share of the guilty companies.

"We can expect the bank's activity in the use of debarments and other sanctions to increase as it seeks to put a stop to the misappropriation of its resources," a World Bank report said.

In the first seven months of this year, the World Bank blacklisted more than 250 entities - including major multinationals, smaller firms and individuals - for bribery, bid-rigging, fraud and other wrongdoing related to projects that it funds, the multilateral lender said.

The figure is four times the number for all of last year, and more than the number of debarments in the past seven years.

Blacklisted companies are normally barred from World Bank projects for several years.

"The World Bank means business. Its ramping up in 2013 is a clear signal that it will not tolerate corruption or fraud," said Tim Coleman, a World Bank global investigations partner.

Of the 250 banned entities this year, Canada had nearly half: 119. It was followed by the US with 46, Indonesia third with 43 and Britain, 40. North America accounted for 29 per cent of the banned entities, Latin America and the Caribbean for 21 per cent, and Europe and Central Asia for 19 per cent. East Asia and the Pacific, including China, accounted for 16 per cent.

Although China came off lightly, the risk of Chinese firms being affected by World Bank bans is increasing, because their overseas mergers and acquisitions are accelerating, said Geoff Nicholas, a partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, an international law firm.

China has almost 150 active and planned World Bank projects, with a total investment of more than US$4.5 billion between this year and 2015, Nicholas said. "The new reality for companies accessing development funds is that the World Bank is focusing on compliance, and debarment is a real risk for those companies that break the rules," he said.

Freshfields knows of at least 10 Chinese companies or people who have been barred by the World Bank since 2009.

The World Bank estimates US$40 billion of aid has been stolen from some of the poorest countries of the world in the past seven years. The lender has invested more than US$200 billion in projects in developing countries in the past five years.

In April, it announced it had barred SNC-Lavalin, a large Canadian construction firm, and its affiliates for 10 years for misconduct related to the Padma Bridge, a US$3 billion project in Bangladesh that has been mired in corruption allegations.