Latin America & Caribbean

Iran sacks diplomat accused of Brazil pool abuse

Iranian flag flying above embassy in Brasilia
Image caption The diplomat had been serving in Brasilia for two years

The Iranian government says it has sacked a diplomat accused of molesting at least four girls at a swimming pool in Brazil.

The official, Hekmatollah Ghorbani, was arrested last month following the alleged incident at a sports club.

He was freed later after invoking diplomatic immunity, but was recalled to Teheran.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry says an investigation found that his behaviour was contrary to "Islamic moralities".

The incident led to official protests by the Brazilian government, which has good political and trade relations with Iran.

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

The diplomat, who had been in his post for two years, was accused of inappropriately touching at least four girls aged between nine and 15 at a private swimming pool in the capital, Brasilia, last month.

In a statement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry explained why Hekmatollah Ghorbani, who is 51 and married with children, was sacked from the diplomatic service.

"Following an investigation into the violations by the Iranian employee of the Iranian embassy in Brazil, it was confirmed that he had failed to comply with administrative regulations and professional and Islamic moralities."

Cultural clash

The Iranian government initially defended the diplomat.

Speaking on Iranian state TV, foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said 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.

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 that may act as a counterweight to the influence of the West, says the BBC's Iran correspondent James Reynolds.

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