(Adds Georgieva comments, details of her departure)
By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, Oct 19 (Reuters) - International Monetary Fund chief economist Gita Gopinath will return to Harvard University in January as planned when her public service leave of absence from the university ends, the IMF said on Tuesday.
Gopinath, the IMF's first female chief economist, joined the fund in October 2018 and led new IMF analytical research on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination targets as well as on climate change mitigation.
IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva cited Gopinath's "tremendous" impact on the IMF's work.
"Gita also won the respect and admiration of colleagues in the Research Department, across the Fund, and throughout the membership for leading analytically rigorous work and policy-relevant projects with high impact and influence," Georgieva said in a statement.
Gopinath won praise for drafting a $50 billion proposal on ending the pandemic https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/imf-says-ending-covid-19-pandemic-possible-cost-some-50-billion-2021-05-21 by vaccinating at least 40% of the population in all countries by the end of 2021, a plan later endorsed by the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and the World Health Organization.
Her departure from the global crisis lender is unrelated to the ethics scandal that had raised questions about Georgieva's future as the IMF's leader, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Gopinath's leave from Harvard, already extended by one year, was ending, and her family had remained in Boston, the person said. She will remain at the IMF to oversee the release of the fund's next World Economic Outlook forecasts in January.
The IMF executive board last week cleared Georgieva of any wrongdoing related to allegations https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/84a922cc9273b7b120d49ad3b9e9d3f9-0090012021/original/DB-Investigation-Findings-and-Report-to-the-Board-of-Executive-Directors-September-15-2021.pdf that in 2017, as the World Bank's chief executive, she put undue pressure on bank staff to alter data to favor China.
The U.S. Treasury Department continues press for changes https://www.reuters.com/business/us-treasury-will-hold-imf-chief-accountable-integrity-changes-official-2021-10-19 at the institutions to safeguard their integrity.
Gopinath told a news conference https://www.reuters.com/article/imf-worldbank-ethics/imf-takes-data-integrity-incredibly-seriously-chief-economist-gopinath-idUSW1N2LK03C last week that the IMF takes data integrity "incredibly seriously" and has robust systems in place but is always looking for ways to improve. (Reporting by David Lawder; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)