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US Supports Calls for External Ethics Investigation Against OAS Chief

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MIAMI (AP) — The head of the Organization of American States (OAS) is facing mounting calls, including from the Biden administration, for an outside investigation into possible misconduct linked to his intimate relationship with a subordinate.

The group’s own Washington-based inspector general said in a memo this week that it is in the organization’s best interest to hire an outside firm to investigate allegations that Secretary General Luis Almagro may have violated the code of ethics.

The inspector general’s recommendation was based on an Associated Press report that found Almagro was in a relationship with a Mexican-born staffer described online, including on the organization’s website, as “senior adviser” to the secretary general. .

The inspector general said the AP report followed an anonymous and vaguely detailed complaint sent to his office by Almagro himself on June 3.

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The democracy and peacebuilding organization’s code of ethics prohibits managers from supervising or participating in decisions that benefit people with whom they are romantically involved.

The proposal to hire an outside firm to investigate Almagro’s behavior will be discussed Wednesday at the next meeting of the 34-member organization’s permanent council.

The United States, which has contributed about half of the organization’s $100 million in funding this year, has already expressed support for an outside investigation ahead of the meeting.

“We take these allegations seriously,” a State Department spokesperson told the AP in an email, adding that any ethics violation “must be investigated fairly and impartially by an appropriate external investigative entity.”

But at least four members — Almagro’s native Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize and Saint Lucia — have publicly endorsed draft resolutions raising concerns about the cost of an outside investigation at a time when the 600-staff hemispheric body is under pressure to cut spending.

His point of reference is a recent investigation into similar misconduct allegations against the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Mauricio Claver-Carone, who was accused of having a long-standing relationship with his chief of staff. The months-long investigation by the US law firm Davis Polk paved the way for the president’s impeachment.

Almagro’s repeated requests for comment on the possibility of an external investigation sent to the secretary-general’s press office went unanswered.

But unlike Claver-Carone, who denied ever having a relationship with his aide, Almagro has said only that he never supervised the employee or was involved in any employment-related decisions, such as authorizing a salary increase. He previously promised to cooperate fully with any investigation conducted by the organization’s highest supervisory authority.

Almagro also faces criticism on other administrative issues.

This week, Mexico criticized Almagro for allegedly betraying the wishes of members by renewing the contract of OAS ombudsman Neida Pérez, days before a long-discussed plan to implement a process was approved at the organization’s annual meeting. open and competitive for the leadership position.

In September, Almagro unilaterally extended Pérez’s contract for four years, and Mexico complained that it was an attempt to preempt those new procedures.

“Unfortunately this is not an isolated act,” the Mexican delegation said in a written statement at a meeting on administrative matters on November 1. “It fits into a pattern of conduct in which the will of the States is ignored and the institutions of the OAS are violated.”

Pérez, whose contract was due to expire on October 21, two weeks after the new procedures were adopted, was recently reprimanded by the OAS’s superior review panel for neglecting her duty to serve as an impartial arbitrator of labor disputes.

That rebuke was in response to Pérez’s role in facilitating Almagro’s removal from office in 2020 of the head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an independently run body. The commission’s executive secretary himself was facing workplace complaints but nonetheless had the unanimous support of the watchdog’s seven commissioners.

Almagro, 59, was elected OAS president in 2015 with nearly unanimous support after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s leftist government.

But once installed in Washington, he made common cause with the US by opposing leftist leaders in Cuba and Venezuela, and even once echoed President Donald J. Trump’s line that he would not rule out the use of military force to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

He was re-elected in 2020 with the support of 23 of the 34 member states. More recently, as the left has regained power in Latin America, calls for his removal have been on the rise.

Last month, members of the Puebla Group—an organization of former presidents and political leaders from 16 countries—issued a statement calling for Almagro’s ouster, criticizing his “amoral” dismissal from the rights watchdog and his intervention following disorderly elections in Bolivia that led to the resignation of President Evo Morales and replacement by a conservative government backed by the United States.

Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.

Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

Copyright 2022 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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