World Bank

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Investigation and debarment at the World Bank: tackling fraud and corruption in World Bank-financed projects

In its 2016 fiscal year, the World Bank Group committed more than US$64 billion in financing, supporting projects in virtually every developing country and spanning nearly every sector.1 As a fiduciary for its member countries' funds, the World Bank has a duty, as set forth in its articles of agreement, to ensure that these funds are used for their intended purposes, with due attention to economy and efficiency.2 The World Bank's systems for detecting and deterring fraud and corruption are grounded in this fiduciary duty and are designed both to protect the integrity of World Bank-financed projects and to deter future wrongdoing.

This chapter describes the basic features of the World Bank's sanctions system, from the start of an investigation through to the administrative proceedings that may lead to the suspension and debarment of firms and individuals who have engaged in sanctionable misconduct. To date, the World Bank has debarred or otherwise sanctioned more than 800 individuals and firms.3

Introduction to World Bank sanctions

The purpose of the World Bank's sanctions system is to safeguard the integrity of Bank-financed operations and ensure that the proceeds of World Bank financing are used only for the purposes intended.4 To that end, the World Bank's sanctions system seeks to create both negative and positive incentives by sanctioning firms and individuals for engaging in misconduct: sanctions create negative incentives by discouraging the sanctioned party and others from engaging in future misconduct, and create positive incentives by encouraging prevention, remediation and rehabilitation.5 Administrative sanctions imposed by the World Bank are ‘intended to deter but not to punish' misconduct on Bank-financed contracts, and are not intended to replace the role of ‘criminal, civil or administrative measures by national authorities.'6

For investment projects approved after July 2016, the World Bank's standards regarding fraud and corruption are set out in the World Bank Procurement Regulations for Borrowers (the Procurement Regulations).7 Specifically, Annex IV of the Procurement Regulations outlines the relevant fraud and corruption provisions applicable to World Bank-financed projects, including the definitions of the five types of misconduct that are subject to sanctions: fraud, corruption, collusion, coercion, and obstructive practices.8 These are the only ‘sanctionable practices' for which the World Bank can sanction firms and individuals.9 Annex IV references another set of guidelines designed to address the risks of fraud and corruption on Bank-financed projects, known as the World Bank's Guidelines: On Preventing and Combating Fraud and Corruption in Projects Financed by IBRD Loans and IDA Credits and Grants (the Anti-Corruption Guidelines).10 The Bank incorporates by reference the Anti-Corruption Guidelines into the relevant legal agreement with the borrowing country. By incorporating the Anti-Corruption Guidelines into the legal agreement, and through related provisions in the Procurement Regulations and related bidding documentation, the World Bank seeks to highlight to all parties involved the consequences of engaging in sanctionable misconduct on Bank-financed projects.

The World Bank's two-tiered sanctions system

The decision to publicly sanction an entity or individual for fraud or corruption can have a significant impact on the sanctioned party. Accordingly, the World Bank has implemented a two-tiered administrative sanctions system to ensure that every sanctions decision follows a thorough investigative process and is subject to independent adjudication.

The process starts with the Integrity Vice Presidency (INT), the World Bank unit responsible for investigating allegations of sanctionable misconduct on World Bank-financed projects. Upon receiving an allegation of a sanctionable practice, INT will decide whether to launch an investigation. If, after concluding its investigation, INT believes it has uncovered sufficient evidence that a firm or individual has engaged in one of the five sanctionable practices, it may submit a statement of accusations and evidence (SAE) to the World Bank's Suspension and Debarment Officer (SDO), who heads the Bank's Office of Suspension and Debarment (OSD). OSD is the first tier in the World Bank's two-tiered adjudicative system.

The SDO is tasked with evaluating whether INT's allegations as presented in its SAE are supported by ‘sufficient evidence,' meaning that it is ‘more likely than not' that the alleged misconduct occurred. If the SDO determines that there is insufficient evidence to support one or more of the accusations, the SDO refers the case back to INT for revision or - if none of the accusations are supported - closes the case.

When the SDO determines that there is sufficient evidence for each of INT's accusations, the SDO issues a notice of sanctions proceedings (Notice) to the accused firm(s) or individual(s), known as the ‘respondent(s)'. The SDO attaches INT's SAE and the entire evidentiary record to the Notice, giving the respondent the opportunity to review the case against it. In the Notice, the SDO also specifies a recommended sanction for the respondent, which is imposed if the respondent chooses to not appeal.

Any respondent for which the SDO recommends a debarment of six months or more is temporarily suspended, which means that, from the moment the SDO issues the Notice, the respondent is no longer eligible to receive new World Bank-financed contracts. The temporary suspension remains in place until the conclusion of the sanctions proceedings. Information about temporary suspensions is made available to World Bank staff and member country counterparts through the World Bank's ‘Client Connection' extranet, but the Bank does not publicly announce temporary suspensions, pending the final outcome of sanctions proceedings.

Respondents in World Bank sanctions proceedings often choose to be represented by legal counsel and are afforded a series of opportunities to contest INT's accusations and the SDO's recommended sanction. First, a respondent has 30 days after receiving the Notice to send the SDO a written explanation, in which the respondent may present arguments and evidence as to why the case against it should be withdrawn or the SDO's recommended sanction should be revised. The respondent also has 90 days to submit a response to the World Bank Group Sanctions Board (the Sanctions Board) - the second tier in the World Bank's sanctions system. The seven-member Sanctions Board, assisted by a permanent secretariat, reviews the SAE and evidentiary record on a de novo basis and is not bound by the SDO's findings or recommended sanctions. INT, in turn, may submit a reply within 30 days of the submission of the respondent's response. The Sanctions Board may hold a hearing at the request of INT, the respondent, or the Sanctions Board chair. Since 2012, the full decisions of the Sanctions Board have been published and are made available on the Bank's public website.

If a respondent does not appeal its case to the Sanctions Board within 90 days after receiving the Notice, the SDO imposes the recommended sanction and issues a notice of uncontested sanctions proceedings, which is posted on OSD's public website. Historically, about two-thirds of respondents have chosen not to appeal to the Sanctions Board.

The complete list of firms and individuals that are currently debarred can be found on the World Bank's public website.11

Recommending the appropriate sanction

When determining the appropriate sanction, the SDO or the Sanctions Board will consider the Bank Procedure: Sanctions Proceedings and Settlements in Bank Financed Projects (the Sanctions Procedures)12 and the World Bank Group Sanctioning Guidelines (the Sanctioning Guidelines).13 There are five potential sanctions: debarment with conditional release, conditional non-debarment, fixed-term debarment, letter of reprimand, and restitution.

The default or ‘baseline' sanction is debarment with conditional release. A respondent subject to debarment with conditional release is ineligible to receive World Bank-financed contracts for a period of time,14 and is not released from debarment at the end of that period until it fulfils certain conditions. The conditional release process generally requires the respondent to implement an integrity compliance programme. The World Bank Group Integrity Compliance Guidelines (the Integrity Compliance Guidelines) detail the elements that should be included in a respondent's integrity compliance programme, such as: a clear prohibition of misconduct, the creation and maintenance of a trust-based, inclusive organisational culture that encourages ethical conduct, and a commitment to compliance with the law.15 The Integrity Compliance Guidelines encourage the respondent to carry out a comprehensive risk assessment and address shortcomings. Other considerations listed in the Integrity Compliance Guidelines include developing and maintaining clear internal policies designed to ‘prevent, detect, investigate and remediate' misconduct, implementing internal controls, providing training, establishing lines of communication, providing incentives, and establishing reporting policies.

The Sanctioning Guidelines list several aggravating and mitigating factors that the SDO or the Sanctions Board should consider when determining the appropriate sanction.16 Aggravating factors such as the severity of the misconduct, harm caused, interference with INT's investigation, or a history of adjudicated misconduct may justify a more severe sanction. Applying aggravation for severity of the misconduct will depend on whether the misconduct was part of a repeated pattern, the respondent used sophisticated means, the respondent's level of involvement, management's involvement in the scheme, or the involvement of a public official or World Bank staff member in the misconduct. ‘Harm caused' might be considered when the misconduct resulted in harm to public safety or resulted in a degree of harm to the project. ‘Interference with investigation' may mean interference with the investigative process or intimidation of a witness (interference may also constitute a stand-alone sanctionable practice of obstruction, depending on the circumstances).

Mitigating factors may include the respondent's minor role in the misconduct, evidence that the respondent has taken voluntary corrective actions, and the level of cooperation with INT in its investigation. Voluntary corrective actions may include cessation of misconduct, internal action against responsible individuals, establishment or improvement of an effective compliance programme, and restitution or financial remedy. Cooperation with the investigation may include assistance and ongoing cooperation with INT's investigation, internal investigations, admission or acceptance of guilt or responsibility, and voluntary restraint from bidding on World Bank-financed tenders pending the outcome of the investigation.

Negotiated resolution agreements and voluntary disclosures

A World Bank investigation or sanctions case may also be resolved through a mutually agreed settlement between the respondent and INT, known as a negotiated resolution agreement (NRA). The parties may enter into an NRA at any point prior to or during sanctions proceedings, up until the SDO issues a notice of uncontested sanctions proceedings or the Sanctions Board issues a decision, as applicable. All NRAs must be cleared by the World Bank's Legal Vice Presidency and are submitted to the SDO for confirmation that (i) the respondent entered into the NRA freely and fully informed of the NRA's terms and without any form of duress, and (ii) the terms of the NRA do not manifestly violate the Sanctions Procedures or the Sanctioning Guidelines. NRAs permit the speedy resolution of matters with a smaller investment of resources and provide a greater measure of certainty for both parties.

The World Bank also has a voluntary disclosure programme (VDP) operating within INT. The VDP provides an opportunity for firms to reveal and address past misconduct on their own initiative, if INT has not yet launched a formal investigation.17 The VDP allows entities to avoid sanctions altogether by agreeing to the following actions: internally investigate and disclose past misconduct; commit to abstain from future misconduct; and comply with certain conditions, including the implementation of robust compliance measures. In exchange for these commitments, participating firms retain eligibility to receive World Bank-financed contracts. Participating firms also remain anonymous, as the World Bank agrees not to publicise or share information regarding the firm's participation and disclosures. If a firm violates the provisions of the VDP, it is subject to a 10-year debarment.

Cross-debarment with other multilateral development banks (MDBs)

In 2010, the World Bank entered into an agreement for the mutual enforcement of debarment decisions with other four other large MDBs: the African Development Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the Asian Development Bank, and the Inter-American Development Bank.18 Under this agreement, if a firm or individual is debarred by one of these MDBs for more than one year, it is debarred by the others, subject to certain limited exceptions.19 This agreement greatly increases the impact of debarment decisions by these MDBs.


The World Bank continues to work hard to prevent, detect and deter misconduct in Bank-financed operations, and has learned and shared valuable lessons about investigating and adjudicating fraud and corruption. This is critical work, to which the World Bank remains strongly committed. After all, when development funds are diverted for fraud and corruption, it is often the poor - the intended beneficiaries of World Bank-financed projects - who suffer the most.


  1. The World Bank Group, World Bank Annual Report 2016, at 7 (available at The ‘World Bank' is comprised of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA) and is one part of a larger group of institutions known as the World Bank Group. In addition to IBRD and IDA, the World Bank Group also includes the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). This chapter describes the sanctions system applicable to activities financed by the World Bank; each of IFC and MIGA have a sanctions system that closely parallels that described here for the World Bank.
  2. Articles of Agreement of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, article III, section 5(b), 27 December 1945, 60 Stat. 1440, 2 U.N.T.S. 134.
  3. Note that this does not include cross-debarments initiated by other multilateral development banks (MDBs) and recognised by the World Bank Group.
  4. WBG Policy: Sanctions for Fraud and Corruption, section III.A.1 (2016).
  5. Id., section III.A.2.
  6. Id., section III.A.3. For a brief discussion of the evolution of the Bank's sanctions system since its inception in 1996, see Pascale Hélène Dubois, Paul Ezzeddin and Collin David Swan, ‘Suspension and Debarment on the International Stage: Experiences in the World Bank's Sanctions System', 25 Public Procurement L. Rev. 61 (2016).
  7. The World Bank Procurement Regulations for IPF Borrowers: Procurement in Investment Project Financing Goods, Works, Non-Consulting and Consulting Services (July 2016).
  8. Id., Annex IV, Fraud and Corruption.
  9. The current definitions of corruption, fraud, collusion, and coercion have been harmonised across the World Bank and its partner MDBs.
  10. World Bank Guidelines: On Preventing and Combating Fraud and Corruption in Projects Financed by IBRD Loans and IDA Credits and Grants (July 2016) (the World Bank Anti-Corruption Guidelines).
  11. The World Bank Listing of Ineligible Firms & Individuals is available online at
  12. Bank Procedure: Sanctions Proceedings and Settlements in Bank Financed Projects (2016).
  13. The World Bank Group, World Bank Group Sanctioning Guidelines (available at (visited 20 June 2017).
  14. The time period is generally three years, although this period may increase or decrease depending on the application of aggravating and mitigating factors.
  15. The World Bank Group, Summary of World Bank Compliance Guidelines.
  16. World Bank Group Sanctioning Guidelines.
  17. For more information on the World Bank VDP, see
  18. The agreement is available online at (visited 19 June 2017).
  19. Id.

The author would like to thank her colleagues Dina Elnaggar, Paul Ezzeddin, Collin Swan and Jessica Berrada at the World Bank Group for their assistance in preparing and editing this chapter.

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