U.S. says Marines punished over Brazil prostitute

BRASILIA Tue Apr 24, 2012 7:27pm EDT

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - Another embarrassing incident surfaced involving U.S. personnel and prostitution in Latin America on Tuesday, as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that Marines had been punished for allegedly injuring a prostitute in Brazil in December.

Panetta told reporters during a visit to Brasilia that the incident was fully investigated and the military personnel involved had been "severely punished," demoted and withdrawn from Brazil.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the incident involved three Marine security guards assigned to the U.S. embassy in Brasilia and one embassy staffer. The personnel allegedly pushed a prostitute from a vehicle, breaking her collarbone, the official said.

A second U.S. defense official could not confirm the nature of the prostitute's injuries.

Questions over the incident follow a separate scandal involving the U.S. Secret Service in Cartagena, Colombia earlier this month on the eve of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The incident in Brazil, which had not previously been widely reported, was raised by a Brazilian journalist at a news conference where Panetta was speaking. Police in Brasilia did not immediately return calls seeking further details.

In the Colombia episode, eight Secret Service employees have left their jobs after being implicated in a night of partying and carousing with prostitutes that overshadowed Obama's participation in the Summit of the Americas.

Twelve U.S. military personnel remain under investigation over that affair, in which the men are alleged to have taken as many as 21 prostitutes back to their beachfront hotel in Cartagena on the night of April 11-12.

The Secret Service is moving to permanently revoke the security clearance of another employee over the incident while three others have been cleared of serious misconduct.

The second U.S. defense official said that all three Marines involved in the incident in Brazil were disciplined, and two were demoted.

Panetta said such behavior was not acceptable.

"They were severely punished," he said. I have no tolerance for that kind of conduct. Not here or any place in the world.

"And where it takes place, you can be assured that we will act to make sure that they are punished."

(Additional reporting by Alonso Soto and Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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