US envoy to Belgium denies 'baseless' sex charges
The US ambassador to Belgium Tuesday denied "baseless accusations" of soliciting prostitutes in a public park, which reportedly emerged during an inquiry into an alleged State Department cover-up.
"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," ambassador Howard Gutman said in a statement.
He made the statement after CBS television news on Monday reported that it had obtained a secret 2012 internal memo by the State Department's independent watchdog, the Inspector General.
The memo claimed that senior State Department officials had sought to hush up eight cases of alleged misconduct by the agents at the diplomatic security bureau and diplomats.
In one case, officials revealed that they were told to stop investigating an American ambassador "who held a sensitive diplomatic post and was suspected of patronizing prostitutes in a public park," CBS reported.
Gutman issued the denial even though he was not 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.
"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," Gutman, who has been in post since August 2009, stressed in his statement.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Tuesday refused to comment on the specifics of the eight individual cases, but she stressed the draft internal memo had contained "a number of unsubstantiated accusations."
"We of course take every allegation of misconduct seriously, and we investigate them thoroughly," she reiterated, adding that some of the investigations were still ongoing and some had been concluded.
"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," she told reporters, adding that to her knowledge none of the cases had been sent to the Department of Justice for any criminal proceedings.
CBS reported that the ambassador under suspicion had been called back to Washington to meet with Undersecretary of State for Management, Patrick Kennedy, but was allowed to return to his post.
In a separate statement 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."
The scandal is another blow to the diplomatic security bureau, which was sharply criticized over last year's attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya, in which the ambassador and three other US citizens were killed.
© 2013 AFP