12:00 AM, October 13, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 13, 2012

WB may release Padma fund early

Muhith, Gowher meet bank's external panel in Tokyo

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Rejaul Karim Byron, from Tokyo

The World Bank panel, assigned to review the investigation into the Padma bridge graft allegation, may give the green signal to the bank for a speedy disbursement of fund if it initially finds Bangladesh's handling of the charge satisfactory.
The three-member panel of international experts, who are due to arrive in Dhaka tomorrow to assess the Anti-Corruption Commission inquiry, has been asked to submit a report within a month, finance ministry officials said.
The assurance of quick fund disbursement came at a meeting between the panel led by Luis Moreno Ocampo, a former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Finance Minister AMA Muhith and prime minister's Foreign Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi at Imperial Hotel in Tokyo yesterday.
The panel told Muhith and Rizvi at the meeting that it could give the go-ahead for a fast-track release of the $1.2 billion fund the WB has promised if it finds the investigation was on the right track, said a Bangladesh official who was present at the meeting.
On Thursday, Isabel Guerrero, WB vice president for South Asia, gave Muhith similar assurance.
The panel, however, would continue reviewing the ACC probe, the official added.
The two other members of the panel -- Timothy Tong, former commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Peoples Republic of China, and Richard Alderman, former director of the UK Serious Fraud Office -- were present at the meeting, sources said.
Muhith is now in the Japanese capital to attend the semi-annual meetings of the WB and the International Monetary Fund.
At the meeting, Muhith assured the panel of all-out support from the government to assist the investigation.
The WB had cancelled its $1.2 billion loan deal on June 29, saying it had proof of a "corruption conspiracy" in the project involving some government officials and executives of a Canadian firm.
The Washington-based global lender announced on September 20 to reengage in the project after the government had taken action to fulfil WB's conditions for its return to the project.
The conditions included: (i) placing all public officials suspected of involvement in the corruption scheme on leave from government employment until the investigation is completed; (ii) appointing a special inquiry and prosecution team within the Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission to handle the investigation; (iii) agreeing to provide full access to all investigative information to an external panel of internationally recognised experts so that they can give guidance to the bank and co-financiers on the progress, adequacy, and fairness of the investigation, and; iv) agreeing on new implementation arrangements that give the bank and co-financiers greater oversight of project procurement processes.
The government is desperate to get the fund as it tries to start the project at the earliest to fulfil one of its key election promises.

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