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.
It also said that Georgieva, now the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and a key adviser pressured staff to "make specific changes to China's data points" and boost its ranking at a time when the bank was seeking China's support for a big capital increase.
China's ranking in the "Doing Business 2018" report published in October 2017, rose seven places to 78th after the data methodology changes were made, compared with the initial draft report.
The Doing Business report assesses regulatory environments, ease of business startups, infrastructure and other business climate measures.
"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. She added that she had met with the IMF's executive board to discuss the matter.
The WilmerHale report also cited irregularities in the data used to determine rankings for Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan in the "Doing Business 2020" report published in 2019, but found no evidence that any members of the bank's Office of the President or executive board were involved in these changes.
"Going forward, we will be working on a new approach to assessing the business and investment climate," the World Bank said in a statement.
(Reporting by David Lawder and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Marguerita Choy)