Thu, Jun 13, 2013 - Page 7 News List

US ambassador denies soliciting

AFP, WASHINGTON

The US envoy to Belgium on Tuesday denied “baseless accusations” that he trawled for prostitutes in a park, as the US Department of State hit out at charges top staff tried to hush up sex-and-drugs charges.

“I am angered and saddened by the baseless allegations that have appeared in the press and to watch the four years I have proudly served in Belgium smeared is devastating,” US Ambassador to Belgium Howard Gutman said in a statement.

He made the statement after CBS television news on Monday reported that it had obtained a secret internal memo from October last year by the department’s independent watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General.

The memo claimed that senior department officials had sought to quash investigations into eight cases of alleged misconduct by agents at the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security as well as diplomats.

In one case, officials said they were told to stop investigating a US ambassador “who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park,” CBS reported.

Gutman was not named specifically in the CBS report, but since the TV report came out, his name has been widely circulated in US media as being linked to the scandal. He staunchly defended his name on Tuesday.

“I live on a beautiful park in Brussels that you walk through to get to many locations and at no point have I ever engaged in any improper activity,” said Gutman, who has been in post since August 2009.

Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused to comment on individual cases, but she stressed the draft memo had contained “a number of unsubstantiated accusations.”

“We of course take every allegation of misconduct seriously, and we investigate them thoroughly,” she said.

Other alleged cases involved an underground drugs ring working near the US embassy in Baghdad said to be supplying security contractors with drugs.

Members of former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton’s security detail were accused of engaging prostitutes on foreign trips, while a security official in Beirut was said to have sexually assaulted foreign nationals.

“I can assure all of you that if the secretary, or previous secretary, were presented with documented evidence of misconduct, they would take appropriate action,” Psaki told reporters.

Some of the investigations into the alleged misconduct had already been closed and some were still ongoing, Pskai said, adding that to her knowledge none of them had been sent to the US Department of Justice for criminal proceedings.

CBS reported that the ambassador under suspicion had been called back to Washington to meet with US Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy, but was allowed to return to his post.

In a separate statement on Tuesday, Kennedy said that in his four-decade career he had always acted to hold “accountable anyone guilty of wrongdoing.”

“It is my responsibility to make sure the department and all of our employees — no matter their rank — are held to the highest standard, and I have never once interfered, nor would I condone interfering, in any investigation,” he added.

The scandal is another blow to the security bureau, which was sharply criticized over last year’s attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.

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