Two vie to lead World Bank after Ocampo pullout

Colombia's Jose Antonio Ocampo withdrew from the race to lead the World Bank on Friday, endorsing Nigerian Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's challenge against the favored US candidate.

The endorsement likely did little to influence the probable choice of US health expert Jim Yong Kim to be the development bank's next president, especially after Russia came out to endorse Kim.

"It is clear that this is not based on the merits of the candidates but is a political exercise," said the former Colombian finance minister in a public statement.

Ocampo also blamed lack of formal support from his own government, saying that had hindered his ability to garner the backing of other countries.

Always considered a dark horse in the three-way race, Ocampo said he would give his support to Nigerian finance minister and Bank veteran Okonjo-Iweala in the hope of unifying "emerging and developing economies around one candidate."

Earlier Brazil's Finance Minister Guido Mantega indicated BRICS group of large emerging markets -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa would endorse a single candidate later Friday.

"We will take a position together with the BRICS, making a common choice," Mantega said.

But that plan appeared to be shot through when Russia broke ranks, endorsing Kim after he visited Moscow.

"Taking into account professional qualities, experience and the competences of Mr Kim, Russia will support the candidacy of Jim Yong Kim," Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was quoted by the Interfax agency as saying.

Brazilian World Bank director Rogerio Studart confirmed Ocampo's departure and acknowledged the BRICS group appeared split despite his country's efforts.

"So one country is trying to get this common position, and another one is giving its own position," he told AFP.

Even so, the BRICS would have had to pull in backing from major European powers to mount a significant challenge to Kim.

Thanks to a tacit agreement, the United States, the Bank's biggest stakeholder, has always chosen its leader, with support from Europe, which in turn nominates the head of the International Monetary Fund.

That is expected to take place again on Monday, when the Bank's directors formally meet to discuss who will replace outgoing president Robert Zoellick, the former US diplomat leaving in June at the end of his five-year term.

The position is crucial for much of the developing world. The president oversees a staff of some 9,000 economists, development experts and other specialists, and a loan portfolio that hit $258 billion in 2011.

Last year the bank committed some $43 billion in new loans and grants, helping diverse countries to develop infrastructure, administration, and key sectors of their economies.

But the bank has been strongly criticized as insensitive to the needs of poorer countries, dictating inappropriate solutions based on the biases of the rich and powerful countries which dominate it.

Peter Chowla of the Bretton Woods Project, which monitors the behavior of the World Bank and IMF, said the process of choosing a Zoellick's predecessor was in appearance more open than in the past.

Behind the scenes, though, "they are going to operate in the same way that they have always operated, which is that the Americans will nominate somebody and the Europeans will support that candidate without any questions asked."

"We still have what is essentially an appointment by the American president," he said.

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