US support groups call for external ethics probe into OAS chief

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The head of the Organization of American States is facing growing calls, including from the Biden administration, for an external investigation into possible misconduct related to his intimate relationship with a subordinate.

The group’s Washington-based inspector general said in a memo this week that it was in the organization’s interest to hire an outside firm to investigate allegations that secretary general Luis Almagro violated the code of ethics.

The inspector general’s recommendation was based on an Associated Press report finding that Almagro had a relationship with a Mexican-born staff member described online, including on the organization’s website, as Senior Advisor to the Secretary General.

The inspector general said the AP report followed an anonymous, sketchy whistleblower complaint forwarded to his office by Almagro himself on June 3.

The peacebuilding and democracy organization’s code of ethics prohibits managers from overseeing 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 expected to be discussed Wednesday at the next meeting of the organization’s 34-member permanent council.

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

We take these allegations seriously, a State Department spokesperson told the AP, adding that any breaches of ethics should be investigated fairly and impartially by an outside investigative entity. appropriate.

But at least four members, Almagro’s native Uruguay, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize and Saint Lucia have publicly supported draft resolutions that raise concerns about the cost of an external investigation at a time when the hemispheric organization of 600 employees is under pressure to cut expenses.

Their reference 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 US law firm Davis Polk determined that Claver-Carone violated ethics rules by favoring the aide, paving 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 having a relationship with his assistant, Almagro only said he never supervised staff or participated in any job-related decisions, such as authorizing a raise. He has previously pledged to cooperate fully with any investigation by the organization’s highest supervisory authority.

Almagro also faces criticism on other administrative issues.

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

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

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated act, the Mexican delegation said in a written statement during a November 1 meeting on administrative matters. It fits into a model of behavior in which the will of the states is ignored and the institutions of the OAS are violated.

Perez, whose contract was set to expire Oct. 21, two weeks after the new procedures were adopted, was recently reprimanded by the OAS senior review board for neglecting her duty to serve as an impartial arbiter of disputes in Workplace.

The reprimand was in response to Perez’s role facilitating Almagro’s 2020 removal of the head of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an independently run body. The executive secretary of the commissions faced workplace complaints himself, but still had the unanimous support of the watchdog’s seven commissioners.

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

But once settled in Washington, he made common cause with the United States in opposing leftist leaders in Cuba and Venezuela, even once echoing President Donald J. Trump’s line that he would not would not rule out the use of military force to depose Venezuelan President Nicols 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 across Latin America, calls for his removal have grown.

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 impeachment, criticizing his amoral dismissal of the rights watchdog and his intervention in the aftermath of messy elections in Bolivia that led to President Evo Morales. resignation and replacement by a US-backed conservative government.

(Only the title and image of this report may have been edited by Business Standard staff; the rest of the content is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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