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World: IMF Head Resigns

  • Frank Csongos

Michel Camdessus, who has led the International Monetary Fund for 13 years, is resigning early next year. Camdessus was at the head of IMF during some turbulent years, including the economic crisis involving the emerging Asian markets and allegations that Russia may have misappropriated large sums of IMF funds. Although his early departure had been anticipated, Camdessus says he is leaving for personal reasons. RFE/RL's Frank T. Csongos reports from Washington.)

Washington, 10 November 1999 (RFE/RL) -- International Monetary Fund Managing Director Michel Camdessus, who guided the world lending organization through some turbulent global economic times, is resigning early next year.

Camdessus told a news conference in Washington yesterday (Tuesday) he will leave in mid-February after the IMF's executive board has selected a successor. Camdessus, a French citizen, had two years left in his third five-year term. His early departure had been widely anticipated.

Camdessus said he is stepping down for personal reasons to enjoy "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." He said politics, criticism leveled at the IMF or allegations of scandal concerning Russian money laundering had nothing to do with his decision to leave.

An advocate of the free market, Camdessus has faced criticism for the IMF's alleged failure to recognize economic trends which sparked a financial crisis that began in 1997 and spread through the emerging markets of Asia. These attacks climaxed last year when the U.S. Congress came close to denying the IMF an $18 billion increase in its capital which the administration of President Bill Clinton said was needed to fend off any worsening of the financial crisis.

The Russian money-laundering scandal broke in August with reports that large sums of money -- perhaps as much as $15 billion -- may have been laundered through accounts at the Bank of New York. Some reports said IMF assistance to Russia may have been involved in the alleged money laundering, and that senior Russian government officials may be involved. No evidence has surfaced to support this.

Money laundering is transferring illegally acquired income through a series of bank accounts to obscure the source of the funds and make it appear legitimate.

In a question posed by our correspondent, Camdessus said that his resignation had nothing to do with allegations that Russia may have misappropriated IMF funds.

"My resignation has nothing to do with these allegations and you have possibly observed, sir, that these allegations, if anything, have demonstrated to be totally unsubstantiated. So I don't see why I would have that in consideration at the time I take this decision almost after 13 years of service and for the constitutional and personal reasons you understand."

Asked by another correspondent if politics played a role, Camdessus said:

"Are there political reasons behind my resignation? Not at all."

Camdessus's record also won widespread praise. U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said he had done an "outstanding job" and British Finance Minister Gordon Brown hailed his "great contribution." World Bank President James Wolfensohn said he deeply regretted Camdessus's decision to leave.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also praised the departing IMF chief.

"We believe that Michel Camdessus has made a tremendous contribution to the financial stability and growth of the whole economic system. And we appreciate the strong leadership at the IMF that he has given during what has clearly been a crucial period."

Camdessus said it was the "right time" for him to leave. In an emotional speech to the IMF staff, he thanked his team for meeting a challenge to make the world a better place.