When it comes to selling copy, it’s a good bet that sex trumps multilateral finance. That’s an axiom of human nature. It would be asking too much to expect that the media, or its customers, would be as fascinated by the in-house diplomacy of the International Monetary Fund as all concerned have been by the scandal surrounding the recently handcuffed and dethroned IMF managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Most eyes are now on the prosecutor’s cratering case, the curious past of the maid who alleged the sexual assault, and the media now analyzing its own coverage of these sordid events.
But in glancing through some of the documents related to l’affaire Strauss-Kahn, there’s a tangential item I’ve run across — which ought to raise big questions about the IMF itself, and deserves its own line of inquiry.
I came across it in the course of reading a 2007 letter from the IMF’s 24 member executive board, which governs the IMF’s daily doings. This letter spelled out for Strauss-Kahn the terms of his appointment as managing director of the institution, and was put out by the IMF in 2007 in a press release that didn’t exactly make headlines at the time. By IMF standards it has some reasonably juicy passages, laying out the benefits of the job. There is a section on the managing director’s annual salary, effectively tax-exempt, of $420,930, plus an allowance of $75,350 “to enable you to maintain, in the interests of the Fund, a scale of living appropriate to your position as Managing Director and to the Fund’s need for representation.” There’s a provision for increasing both these sums every year to keep up with any increase in Washington consumer prices. For business travel, there are per diem payments, plus reimbursement for “all hotel expenses,” as well as travel and hotel expenses for his spouse to attend IMF annual board meetings outside Washington, or accompany him on any official travel “where this is in the interest of the Fund.” The letter goes on to detail generous retirement provisions, and so forth. By the time you’re done reading it — especially after the recent news that when Strauss-Kahn encountered the now-famous immigrant maid this past May, he was staying in a New York hotel suite that cost $3,000 per night — you might well wonder if the IMF, like most bureaucracies of the United Nations “family” of institutions, hasn’t become a tad too generous in lavishing other people’s money on its senior staff.
But that’s not the most interesting part. What needs attention is that this letter to Strauss-Kahn from the IMF executive board was signed, as it happens, by someone named Abbas Mirakhor.