Investigation finds World Bank leaders pushed staffers to boost rankings for China and Saudi Arabia in high-profile reports

The World Bank says it will stop publishing its annual Doing Business economic report after an independent investigation found bank leaders placed “undue pressure” on staffers to alter data to inflate the rankings for China and Saudi Arabia in 2018 and 2020 editions of the report.

The bank commissioned the law firm WilmerHale to conduct the probe.

Investigators found then-CEO Kristalina Georgieva pressured the Doing Business team in 2017 to “change the report’s methodology” or “make specific changes” to data points to boost China’s ranking in the 2018 edition.

This came after Chinese government officials repeatedly expressed concerns to her and then-World Bank President Jim Yong Kim over the country’s ranking, according to the 16-page investigation released by WilmerHale.

At the time, Georgieva was in the middle of negotiations over a capital increase campaign in which China “was expected to play a key role,” the investigation found.

Georgieva was “directly involved” in improving China’s ranking, according to the independent investigation, which said that during one meeting, the then-CEO “chastised the Bank’s then-Country Director for mismanaging the Bank’s relationship with China and failing to appreciate the importance of the Doing Business report to the country.”

Doing Business team leaders eventually increased China’s ranking in the survey by seven places to 78 by identifying data points they could modify, including giving the nation “more credit” for a Chinese secured transactions law, according to the WilmerHale report.

In October 2017, the investigation found that aides to Kim also directed the survey team to simulate how China’s final score might change if data from Taiwan and Hong Kong were incorporated into the country’s existing data. The WilmerHale report says that the Doing Business team leaders “believed that the concern was coming from President Kim directly.”

Georgieva, who is now the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said in a statement that she disagrees “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,” and that she has briefed the IMF’s Executive Board on this matter.

Kim has not yet responded to a CNN email seeking comment.

During a press briefing Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said, “Ms. Georgieva has issued a statement on the IMF’s official website. I would refer you to relevant authorities for further information. We have also noted that the World Bank recently issued a statement on suspending the Doing Business report. The Chinese government attaches great importance to the efforts of Doing Business of improving the business environment, which is evident to all. We hope that the World Bank will take facts as the basis, rules as the criterion, follow the professional, objective, fair and transparent principles, to conduct a thorough investigation into relevant issues in strict accordance with the internal review procedures, so as to better safeguard the professionalism and credibility of the Doing Business report and the credibility of the World Bank itself and its member countries’ reputations.”

The WilmerHale investigation also found irregularities relating to Saudi Arabia’s data in the 2020 Doing Business report. Saudi government officials expressed “displeasure” over how their country ranked in the 2019 edition, especially with the survey team’s failure to recognize what officials saw as the “country’s successful reforms,” according to the investigation.

As a result, senior bank leaders, including one of the founders of the Doing Business report, Simeon Djankov, instructed the survey team to “find a way to alter the data” so that Jordan wouldn’t rank first on its so-called “Top Improvers” list. The team eventually added points in multiple categories to Saudi Arabia so that the country would replace Jordan in the top spot, according to the results of the investigation.

Djankov said that the demand to change Saudi Arabia’s data came from two senior World Bank officials, one of whom previously served as Chief of Staff to President Kim and was involved in changes to China’s data in the 2018 edition of Doing Business, the investigation found.

In a statement released on Thursday, the World Bank said it would discontinue the “Doing Business” report. “The World Bank Group remains firmly committed to advancing the role of the private sector in development and providing support to governments to design the regulatory environment that supports this. Going forward, we will be working on a new approach to assessing the business and investment climate,” the statement added.

CNN has reached out to the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington D.C and the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment and is awaiting a response.

CNN has also reached out to Simeon Djankov and the Peterson Institute for International Economics where he works as a senior fellow for comment.

— Jennifer Hauser, Pamela Boykoff, Betsy Klein and CNN’s Beijing Bureau contributed reporting.

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