Forbidden romance at the IDB: Probe suggests misconduct by head of Latin American lender

The document, which EL PAÍS has seen, points to an inappropriate relationship between former Trump official Mauricio Claver-Carone and the development bank’s head of personnel, who received raises and promotions

Mauricio Claver-Carone, IDB president, at an event in Paraguay in 2021.
Mauricio Claver-Carone, IDB president, at an event in Paraguay in 2021.Nathalia Aguilar (EFE)
Inés Santaeulalia

The appointment of the current president of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Mauricio Claver-Carone, in September 2020 was fraught with controversy. Until then, the bank had never had a non-Latin American chief. He was Donald Trump’s candidate and the choice was highly questioned. Two years later, Claver-Carone is in the eye of a new storm that has all the ingredients of a novel.

An independent report requested by the IDB, which EL PAÍS has seen, claims that the president and a senior bank official had a romantic relationship before getting jobs at the bank, something that is prohibited by the internal policy of Latin America’s largest development lender. In addition, between 2020 and 2022 the woman, identified as J.B, received two pay raises. The president denies the accusations and says he never got a chance to officially respond to them.

The IDB will have to decide in the coming days what action to take for an unprecedented situation in its 73-year history. The probe dates back to March, when an anonymous whistleblower alerted the bank’s board about alleged misconduct by Claver-Carone. The board hired the law firm Davis Polk to conduct an independent investigation. The report, which the IDB chief claims he has not yet seen, states that neither he nor J.B. collaborated with the investigation, which would also violate internal policy. The president claimed otherwise on Tuesday: “I supported and participated in this unprecedented investigation that, as expected, does not corroborate the false and anonymous accusations made against me or IDB staff in the press.”

The report claims that he never agreed to hand over his company phone for analysis, or show the messages exchanged on his personal phone, or his emails. The other party, for her part, refused to be interviewed for the investigation. “There is evidence to support the conclusion that they had a romantic relationship before joining the bank and that the relationship may have continued during their employment.”

In less than a year, the president approved two salary increases for J.B, the first one as soon as she was hired. J.B. joined the IDB on September 23, 2020 on a net annual salary of $287,000. A week later, on October 1, Claver-Carone approved a 20% increase, up to $350,000. And in July 2021, the president signed off on a new increase of 20% ($420,000). Only two days earlier, J.B. had expressed anger after someone asked her to help coordinate a tour of the IDB’s art collection.

This was the exchange of emails that appears in the report:

- Really? writes the woman.

- Ignore them, tell them to go to hell.

J.B. writes that she is “fed up” and that something has got to change.

- Okay. Tell me what you want. (...) I will do whatever you want.

- I want to have an executive vice-president title as director of banking strategy and collection.

The next day, Claver-Carone asked human resources for a salary increase and job title change for J. B.

The president, in his statement, said that “the investigative process failed to meet international standards of integrity that both the IDB and the region strive to exemplify.” He also took issue with the fact that the process was based on an anonymous complaint. Claver-Carone said he was not given an opportunity to review the final report, which “as expected” does not corroborate the claims, he said. But that is only partially true.

The anonymous source not only flagged the sentimental relationship, but also accused Claver-Carone and J.B. of incurring extra costs on trips to cover up their romance. The report has verified that some business travel expenses made by the two “are incompatible with bank policy,” but found no evidence that the purpose was covering up the relationship. The investigation also found that Claver-Carone violated internal purchase card policies, but it is “unclear” if he was aware of it or did so on purpose.

The complaint claimed that several employees had suffered reprisals within the bank for talking about the relationship, a claim that has also not been proven. However, the probe does acknowledge that during the process, in which dozens of interviews were requested with IDB staff, many workers expressed their fear of suffering some type of retaliation.

Claver-Carone, 47, born in Miami to a family of Cuban descent, was a senior official with the Trump administration, serving as the White House’s top national security adviser on Latin America. He was known for his tough position against Chavismo and Castroism. The current probe investigated his divorce papers and found no specific cause. However, the divorce petition filed by J. B.’s ex-husband in July 2019 did indicate that it was due to her infidelity with Claver-Carone, although she denied it and the couple finally reached an agreement. That was a year before Claver-Carone and J.B. both secured jobs at the IDB. The president’s term is for five years, so it would theoretically end in 2025, but the leader’s future is no longer in his hands.

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