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Iranian Diplomat Accused of Fondling at Brazilian Swimming Club

SÃO PAULO—An Iranian diplomat has been accused of fondling girls at a local swimming pool in Brazil's capital city, a case testing local perceptions of diplomatic immunity laws.

Police detained the diplomat on Saturday at a swim club in Brasilia, where they found the man surrounded by a mob of irate parents, some seeking to thrash him and others pleading for calm until the authorities arrived, police officials said. Police didn't name the accused man, citing his diplomatic status. Police said the man denied wrongdoing.

Witnesses said the diplomat had been pretending to swim around the pool in a "duck-diving" manner, police said. While underwater, however, the diplomat surreptitiously fondled four girls between the ages of nine and 15 years, police said. Some of the girls began screaming and their parents confronted the man.

"It is really surprising that a diplomat would act in such a way," said Johnson Monteiro, a civil police detective who handled the case.

Police at the scene succeeded in extracting the man from the irate parents and transported him to a police station. After discovering he was a diplomat, police released the man to officials from the Iranian embassy in Brasilia in accordance with diplomatic immunity agreements, police and Brazilian foreign affairs officials said.

Citing diplomatic immunity, Brazilian officials also declined to release the man's name. Officials at Iran's embassy in Brazil didn't respond to requests for comment. The diplomat is free to leave Brazil and his current whereabouts aren't known, Brazilian officials said.

Under the diplomatic immunity agreement, the official could face charges in Iran, Brazilian officials said.

The case is grabbing local attention. Parents of the alleged victims have demanded a meeting with Brazilian federal authorities to discuss why he was released. A senior official at Brazil's foreign ministry is set to meet with a group of parents later today, foreign ministry officials said.

The neighborhood club, called Clube Vizinhança is one of Brasilia's oldest family-oriented swimming, tennis and soccer clubs, with a membership that club directors describe as "upper middle class."

A party celebrating the club's 51st anniversary was taking place when the transgressions were alleged to have occurred.

Club officials said they have suspended the membership of the Iranian official who they said is named Hekmatollah Ghorbani. The suspension has taken immediate effect pending the result of the investigation as per club rules, club officials said.

Brazil has cultivated relations with Iran as part of a strategy to gain global prestige by serving as a mediator between developing nations and developed ones. Iran sees Brazil as an important ally in opposing U.S. and European-backed sanctions. Brazil's strategy of engaging with international pariahs like Iran has brought criticism that the country prioritizes its own global prominence over human rights.

Brazil's current president Dilma Rousseff may be easing the country away from the strategy. Shortly after taking office, Ms. Rousseff declared human rights to be an important issue, and criticized a controversial Iranian court decision to stone to death a woman accused of adultery. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad didn't visit Brazil last year during a Latin American swing that included Venezuela and Cuba.


Write to John Lyons at john.lyons@wsj.com Updated April 18, 2012, 3:41 p.m. ET

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