March 12, 2016 / 12:31 AM / 4 years ago

UPDATE 1--EBRD chief expected to fend off challenge from Polish central banker

(Adds Chakrabarti getting support late on Friday from the United States)

By Marc Jones

LONDON, March 11 (Reuters) - European Bank for Reconstruction and Development President Suma Chakrabarti is expected to fend off a challenge from Poland’s central bank chief Marek Belka to head the bank for the next four years.

The deadline for nominations for the bank’s top job was midnight on Friday in London, where the bank is based.

Belka, who was Poland’s prime minister in 2004-05 and headed the IMF’s European Department when the Greek debt crisis erupted, looks set to be the only challenger, but he faces an uphill battle.

Chakrabarti, a British former civil servant, has been at the helm of the EBRD since 2012, having got the job largely thanks to a complex deal over top European posts at the time. He has received support for another term from major players such as France and late on Friday the United States.

Last year’s change of government in Poland has also held up Belka’s entry into the race, giving him limited time to rally potential backers.

“The chances (I will join the EBRD) are really very minimal,” Belka said in Warsaw on Friday.

The EBRD was created in 1991, originally to invest in the former Soviet bloc countries of eastern Europe to rebuild their economies and improve communist-era infrastructure.

But it has expanded rapidly over the last decade. It is now in Mongolia and Turkey, Arab states such as Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, as well as euro crisis countries Greece and Cyprus. Lebanon is set to be next, while China has also become a member.

The bank’s shareholders, whose voting power is heavily dominated by the G7 group of major developed countries, will decide on the EBRD leadership at their annual meeting in London in mid-May.

Though Chakrabarti is a strong favourite, his current term has been a difficult one for the development bank.

In 2014 it stopped new lending in Russia, traditionally its biggest market following Western sanctions, and saw first annual loss since the 2007-08 financial crisis. It returned to profit the year after. (Reporting by Marc Jones; Additional reporting by Pawel Sobczak and Anna Koper in Warsaw; Editing by Dominic Evans)

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