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OAS launches external ethics probe into chief over romance


MIAMI (AP) — The Organization of American States has launched an external probe into allegations that Secretary General Luis Almagro may have violated the organization's code of ethics while carrying on an intimate relationship with a staffer.

As a result of Friday's unanimous vote, the OAS will seek to hire a company to look into whether Almagro violated the OAS' code of ethics or any other staff rules that prohibit supervisors from favoring co-workers with whom they are romantically involved.

Almagro, speaking at the conclusion of Friday's meeting, said he supports a full, transparent investigation of his relationship with a woman who he said was his “partner” for nearly three years and accompanied him to many dinners and other diplomatic events until their breakup a few months ago.

The approved resolution authorizing the probe cites a report by The Associated Press that found that Almagro's relationship with a Mexican-born staffer two decades his junior was an open secret that had made many in the Washington-based organization feel uncomfortable.

Almagro denies ever favoring the woman with pay raises, promotions or any other employment-related decisions.

However, a regional diplomat closely following the situation said member states have a number of doubts regarding how the woman rose through the ranks and why she was placed on leave this year when questions started being asked about the office romance. The diplomat spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the organization's internal deliberations.

OAS employment records show that the woman, who is not being named at the request of the OAS, saw her pay grade boosted sometime before June 30, 2019 and her short-term contract extended to a long-term one while she was dating the organization's top official. Along the way, she started being described in online bios, some of them posted to the OAS’ website, as the “head adviser” to the secretary general.

The investigation into Almagro comes after another U.S.-dominated regional organization, the Inter-American Development Bank, fired this year its president, former White House official Mauricio Claver-Carone, over similar allegations of favoring a subordinate with whom he allegedly had an intimate relationship.

Almagro seemed little concerned in defending his behavior during Friday's session, at one point joking with the chair from Suriname, who was sitting next to him, that “maybe you should have an external investigation” after the diplomat picked his own country's name from a box to begin the roll call vote.

The U.S. was among the 30 countries voting in favor of Friday's resolution. Two countries abstained.

Almagro was elected to head the OAS with near-unanimous support in 2015 after serving as foreign minister in Uruguay’s leftist government. And throughout his tenure he’s faced questions about his leadership style.

From the start, Almagro made common cause with the U.S. in opposing Cuba and Venezuela’s socialist governments, once even mimicking President Donald Trump’s line that he wouldn’t rule out using military force to remove Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — a position rebuked even by conservative U.S. allies.

Follow Goodman on Twitter: @APJoshGoodman