The US supports calls for an external ethics inquiry into the OAS chief

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MIAMI (AP) – The head of the Organization of American States is facing growing calls, including from the Biden administration, for an outside investigation into possible wrongdoing related to his intimate relationship with a subordinate.

The Washington-based group’s inspector general said in a memo this week that it was in the organization’s “best interests” 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 a report by The Associated Press, which found that Almagro had a relationship with a Mexican-born staffer who was described online, including on the organization’s own website, as the secretary-general’s “chief adviser.”

The inspector general said the AP report followed a loosely detailed, anonymous whistleblower complaint that Almagro himself forwarded to his office on June 3.

The Peace and Democracy Building Organization’s code of ethics prohibits managers from overseeing decisions or participating in decisions that benefit people with whom they have a romantic relationship.

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

The US — which has contributed about half of the organization’s $100 million in funding this year — expressed support for an external inquiry ahead of the meeting.

“We take these allegations seriously,” a State Department spokesman told the AP in an email, adding that any breach of ethics “should be investigated in a fair and impartial manner by an appropriate outside investigative body.”

But at least four members — Almagro’s home country of Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize and St. Lucia — have publicly backed draft resolutions that raise concerns about the cost of an external investigation while the 600-person hemispheric panel is under pressure to cut spending.

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

Repeated requests to the Secretary-General’s press office for Almagro’s comment on the possibility of an external investigation went unanswered.

But unlike Claver-Carone, who denied ever having a relationship with his assistant, Almagro said only that he never oversaw the employee or was involved in employment-related decisions like approving a pay rise. He previously promised to fully cooperate with any investigation by the organization’s top regulator.

Almagro also faces criticism in other administrative matters.

Mexico slammed Almagro this week for allegedly betraying members’ wishes by extending a contract for OAS Ombudswoman Neida Perez, days before a long-discussed plan to implement an open and competitive process for the senior post at the annual meeting of the organization was approved.

Almagro unilaterally extended Perez’s contract by four years in September, and Mexico complained that it was an attempt to pre-empt these new procedures.

“Unfortunately, this is not an isolated act,” the Mexican delegation said in a written statement at a Nov. 1 meeting on administrative matters. “It fits into a pattern of behavior that disregards the will of states and violates the institutions of the OAS.”

Perez – whose contract was due to expire on October 21, two weeks after the new procedures were approved – was recently reprimanded by the OAS’s top audit committee for neglecting her duty to act as an impartial arbitrator in workplace disputes.

This rebuke was in response to Perez’s role in allowing Almagro’s 2020 removal of the head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — an independently run body. The executive secretary of the commission has faced grievances in the workplace himself, but nonetheless enjoyed the unanimous support of the regulator’s seven commissioners.

Almagro, 59, was elected chair of the OAS in 2015 with near-unanimous support after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s left-wing government.

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

He was re-elected in 2020 with the support of 23 out of 34 member states. More recently, as the left regained power across Latin America, calls for his ouster grew louder.

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 and criticizing his “amoral” dismissal of the legal guard and his intervention after chaotic elections in Bolivia , which led to the resignation of President Evo Morales and replacement by a US-backed conservative government.

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

Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman

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