Author: Azizur Rahman
16 December 2020
2 min read
Rahman Ravelli and Guidepost Solutions’ Christopher Kim detail the correct approach that companies should take if they receive a World Bank audit letter.
In its recently issued Sanctions Systems Annual Report FY 2020, the World Bank Group (WBG) confirmed its commitment to investigate and sanction corruption and fraud occurring in bank-financed projects, despite the unprecedented challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report, co-authored by the Integrity Vice Presidency (INT), the Office of Suspension and Debarment (OSD) and the Sanctions Board revealed little coronavirus-related slowdown in the WBG’s enforcement activities. On the contrary, the bank’s in-house investigatory teams initiated roughly the same number of sanctions cases they did in 2019 - and recorded an increase in the number of firms and individuals sanctioned this year.
The WBG’s 2020 lending and investment have also continued apace. Last spring, the WBG announced plans to quickly finance up to $160 billion to help fight the pandemic.
Projects such as the recently-approved funding of judicial services and employment support in Azerbaijan, assistance with strengthening Turkmenistan’s welfare monitoring system and even its help to Bulgaria in enhancing disaster risk management all show the extent to which the WBG does more than simply fund big transport and infrastructure projects.
But the increased financing that has been announced, combined with WBG’s commitment to integrity, will likely lead to the launch of many new WBG investigations throughout 2021.
For companies receiving WBG financing, this may increase chances of receiving an “audit letter” from the INT. Audit letters (per the terms of WBG bidding, contract and/or loan documents) provide INT with broad scope of review and/or oversight of documents related to the World Bank bidding and/or contract process; including making requests for documents and employees involved in the World Bank procurement process available to be interviewed. In the same way as a US Securities and Exchange Commission Wells Notice signals focused regulatory interest, an audit letter may be the first indicator for a company of an INT investigation.
While every company’s situation is unique there are some standard guidelines that we generally recommend should be followed:
Be wary of engaging in any substantive discussions with WBG investigators/auditors and/or providing documents per an audit letter. INT’s mandate is to investigate allegations of sanctionable practices (eg: corrupt, fraud and/or collusive practices) and, therefore, an investigation may lead to sanctions, including debarment.
In summary, we would recommend consulting outside counsel and an independent consulting expert specialising in World Bank matters if a company receives an audit letter, since the potential consequences may be an unwanted investigation and/or unwanted sanction.
Aziz Rahman is Senior Partner at Rahman Ravelli and its founder. His ability to coordinate national, international and multi-agency defences has led to success in some of the most significant corporate crime cases of this century and top rankings in international legal guides. He is recognised worldwide as one of the most capable legal experts regarding top-level, high-value commercial and financial disputes.