Former World Bank chief Wolfensohn dies

The Australian-born former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, has died at the age of 86.
The Australian-born former head of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn, has died at the age of 86.

James Wolfensohn, the Australian-born investment banker who pushed through debt relief for the poorest nations during a decade at the helm of the World Bank, has died. He was 86.

Wolfensohn, a former Salomon Brothers partner, was appointed as president of the global development bank by then-US President Bill Clinton and led the Bank from June 1995 through May 2005.

Born in Australia, he became a US citizen in 1980.

In 1979, he helped orchestrate the rescue of Chrysler Corp from the verge of bankruptcy, along with Chrysler's chief executive Lee Iacocca and Paul Volcker, who was then president of the New York Federal Reserve.

Together with the International Monetary Fund, Wolfensohn in 1996 launched the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative, a program that eventually provided more than $53 billion in debt relief to 27 of the world's poorest countries.

Former prime minister Paul Keating said few Australians had as much of an impact and presence in the US as Wolfensohn, who had been a friend since 1977.

"Jim Wolfensohn was a huge personality who carried the flag of Australia in the United States for half a century," Keating said in a statement.

"He was Australia's unofficial ambassador at the court of the American Congress and the White House, forever ready to promote Australia's interests when asked."

As well as being a distinguished public servant and financial market insider, Wolfensohn's interest in music and culture "further defined his generous personality", Keating said.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he was saddened to hear of the passing of Wolfensohn.

"A great international civil servant who was president of the World Bank and a committed philanthropist. He will be truly missed."

Current IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva mourned the passing of her friend, mentor and former boss.

"He was a hero to me as he was to so many," she said in a statement.

"Jim transformed the world of development and he transformed the World Bank. In the process, he became, quite literally, the voice for the poor people on our planet."

Australian Associated Press