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World Bank Group’s Watchful Eye: A Reminder of How Minor Ethical Breaches Can Result in Major Problems

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While much attention is given to compliance with applicable laws, such as the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, many companies working on projects sponsored by Multi-Lateral Development Banks (“MDBs” or “MDB”) overlook that they have subjected themselves to an entirely separate regime of anti-fraud and anti-corruption regulations with serious consequences for non-compliance. These regulations can exceed the requirements of the applicable laws in some areas, and MDBs have a history of enforcing regulatory breaches that would not interest most government regulators.

The World Bank Group’s enforcement arm, the Office of Suspension and Debarment (“OSD”), has had a strong start to 2024 — since January, it has added more than 60 new entities and individuals to its Listing of Ineligible Firms and Individuals.1 Such “debarred” entities and individuals are prohibited from participation or nomination of any kind in projects receiving funding from the World Bank Group or, in most cases, any other MDBs, including as a subcontractor, consultant, supplier, or service provider.2 Additionally, any loans already given can be cancelled. This robust enforcement serves as a stark reminder of the potential serious consequences for even seemingly mundane ethical lapses.

For example, in early March 2024, the World Bank Group imposed a 15-month sanction on Africa Enablers GmbH, a Switzerland-based firm, and its two Principals (“Africa Enablers”) resulting from Africa Enablers’ misrepresenting its past experience in documentation submitted to the World Bank Group.3 Despite Africa Enablers admitting its responsibility and taking remedial action, the World Bank Group imposed an initial ten-month debarment,4 followed by a five-month conditional non-debarment period.

A week after the Africa Enablers debarment, the World Bank Group announced a conditional non-debarment of Nippon Koei LAC, a subsidiary of a Tokyo-headquartered engineering company.5 Per the World Bank Group’s official statement, Nippon Koei LAC engaged in fraudulent practices in connection with three World Bank Group-financed projects in Latin America, including making undisclosed payments to outside consultants in connection with the tender and contract execution and falsifying signatures on a curricula vitae that formed part of the tender.

Nor are individuals immune from scrutiny. On April 10, 2024, the World Bank Group announced a 43-month debarment for Mr. Bounlert Chanthasounthone, which makes him, along with any firms he controls, ineligible to participate in any MDB-financed projects and opportunities.6 According to the press release, Mr. Chanthasounthone submitted a falsified prior contract to “support the negotiation of an inflated salary for his consultant contract under the project.”

What This Means For You

As evidenced in these cases, there are a plethora of opportunities for compliance missteps in any transaction involving an MDB. As such, entities and individuals participating in World Bank Group and other MDB-financed activities must be acutely aware of these risks and create and maintain robust compliance programs that are sufficient to ensure their employees act ethically from the beginning of the tender process to the end of the project. This includes having not only effective compliance policies, but also robust internal processes to ensure the accuracy of information submitted to the MDB, whether as part of the tender or during performance.

As an example, the World Bank Group, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes have jointly issued an Anti-Corruption Ethics and Compliance Handbook for Business.7 While principally focused on corruption, this Handbook outlines the World Bank Group’s general expectations for the design and structure of corporate compliance programs. Broadly speaking, the Handbook envisions compliance programs containing the following core components:

  • Clear, visible, and accessible policies, including detailed policies for particular risk areas, such as conflicts of interest, extortion, and gifts, travel, and entertainment
  • Application of the company’s policies to third parties, including subsidiaries, joint ventures, agents, representatives, consultants, brokers, contractors, suppliers or any other intermediary under its effective control
  • Proper oversight of the compliance program
  • Support and commitment from senior management
  • Internal controls and record keeping
  • Communication and training regarding the policies
  • Proper incentives to foster a culture of compliance
  • Procedures for detecting, reporting, and addressing violations
  • Periodic reviews, evaluations, and improvement of compliance policies

The World Bank Group’s enforcement regime and guidance is well-developed and illustrative of the standards imposed by all of the major MDBs. Companies should familiarize themselves with this guidance and the World Bank Group’s sanctionable activities, which include fraud, corruption (including so-called commercial bribery), coercion, collusion, and obstruction.8 It is crucial that compliance programs be evaluated to confirm their fidelity to those risk areas. Compliance programs and processes should then be re-evaluated periodically thereafter. Failing to maintain an effective compliance program could, by itself, constitute a breach of the MDBs’ compliance regulations. The World Bank Group, for example, often contractually requires companies to adopt, implement, and maintain such policies as a condition of receiving funding.

1 Procurement – World Bank Listing of Ineligible Firms and Individuals, The World Bank Group, (last visited April 10, 2024). Published on the World Bank Group’s website, this listing compiles all individuals or entities ineligible for World Bank Group-financed projects due to violations of the World Bank Group’s anticorruption guidelines and policies.

2 The need for effective compliance programs is especially crucial as the World Bank Group and other MDBs have agreed to enforce each other’s debarments in cases where the debarment exceeds one year. In other words, one-year and longer debarments from the World Bank Group or another MDB would also be automatically adopted by all the other MDBs without an opportunity for advocacy or argument, including by the Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank Group, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Inter-American Development Bank Group.

3 World Bank Debars Africa Enablers GmbH and two Principals, The World Bank Group (March 6, 2024),

4 The World Bank Group’s principal penalty is debarment, which prohibits entities and individuals from participating in any kind of projects receiving funding from the World Bank Group or, in most cases, any other MDBs.

5 World Bank Group Announces Settlement with Nippon Koei Latin America – Caribbean Co., Ltd., The World Bank Group (March 13, 2024),

6 World Bank Group Debars Individual for Fraudulent Practices, The World Bank Group (April 10, 2024),

7 World Bank Group, Anti-Corruption Ethics and Compliance Handbook for Business (2013),

8 World Bank Group, The World Bank Group Sanctions System (2023),

This information is provided by Vinson & Elkins LLP for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended, nor should it be construed, as legal advice.