US secret service sex scandal mars Barack Obama visit to South America

A SCANDAL involving 12 US Secret Service agents threatened to overshadow President Barack Obama’s diplomatic mission to Latin America this weekend after they were relieved of duty over alleged misconduct.

The misconduct is said to have involved prostitutes in Cartagena, site of the Summit of the Americas. Neither the Secret Service nor the White House has disputed the allegations.

The alleged activities took place before Obama arrived last Friday in the Colombian port city for meetings with 33 other regional leaders. The agents involved were relieved from duty and replaced with other agency personnel.

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“These personnel changes will not affect the comprehensive security plan that has been prepared in advance of the president’s trip,” a Secret Service spokesperson said.

The allegations are an embarrassment for the president and his delegation while guests of the Colombian government. And the incident threatened to torpedo White House efforts to keep the president’s trip focused squarely on the economy and boosting US trade ties with fast-growing Latin America.

Obama is holding two days of summit meetings with regional leaders before returning to Washington this evening.

The agents at the centre of the allegations had stayed at Cartagena’s Hotel Caribe. Several members of the White House staff and press corps also stayed there.

A hotel employee said the agents arrived at the beachfront hotel about a week ago. The employee described the agents as drinking heavily during their stay.

The employee said the agents left the hotel last Thursday, a day before Obama and other leaders arrived for the summit.

The hotel’s public relations chief had no comment to make.

The Washington Post reported that Jon Adler, president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said the accusations related to at least one agent having involvement with prostitutes in Cartagena. The association represents federal law enforcement officers, including the Secret Service. Adler later said that he had heard that there were allegations of prostitution, but he had no specific knowledge of any wrongdoing.

The matter has been turned over to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which handles its internal affairs.