Latin America & Caribbean

Iran investigates diplomat accused of Brazil pool abuse

Iranian flag flying above embassy in Brasilia
Image caption Iran has recalled the diplomat after the "cultural misunderstanding"

Iran says it has called home a diplomat who is accused of molesting four girls at a swimming pool in Brazil and will investigate him.

The official was arrested following the alleged incident at a sports club in the capital, Brasilia, but freed after invoking diplomatic immunity.

A spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry said the man, named as Hekmatollah Ghorbani, would be "dealt with".

He added that reporting of the story was intended to damage bilateral ties.

The diplomat, who has been in his post for two years, was accused of inappropriately touching girls aged between nine and 15 at a private swimming pool in Brasilia last week.

Brazil's Foreign Minister, Antonio Patriota, said the allegations were "very worrying" and asked Iran to investigate.

Speaking on Iranian state TV, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast defended the diplomat - who is 51 and married with children - saying the allegations were a result of a "cultural misunderstanding".

He said the Western media's reporting of the alleged incident was being used for "political gain" against Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad planned to pay an official visit to Brazil in the "near future", he added.

But Mr Mehmanparast said being at a mixed-sex swimming pool was considered "a disciplinary violation" and that Mr Ghorbani had been "summoned home at once". Under Iranian law, men and women of any age are not allowed to share a swimming pool.

A number of Iranian MPs have called on the diplomat to issue an apology.

The Islamic Republic is keen to build an alliance with Brazil - a rising world power which may act as a counterweight to the influence of the West, says the BBC's Iran correspondent James Reynolds.

Because of this, it will be deeply embarrassed by the case, our correspondent adds.

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