A four-star general who was the first head of the new US Africa Command is facing possible demotion for allegedly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lavish travel, hotels and other items, it has emerged.
General William "Kip" Ward, whose rank commands a salary of more than 20,000 dollars a month (£12,800), has been under investigation for about 17 months, and US defence secretary Leon Panetta is expected to make a final decision on the matter before the end of the month, according to several sources.
The defence sources said Gen Ward was facing numerous accusations that he spent several hundred thousand dollars allowing unauthorised people, including family members, to fly on government planes, and spent excessive amounts on hotel rooms, transport and other expenses when he travelled as head of Africa Command.
A four-star general is the highest rank in the US Army.
While the exact amount of alleged mis-spending was not disclosed, the estimated total raises comparisons with the 823,000 dollars (£527,000) allegedly spent by dozens of employees of the General Services Administration, who were accused of lavish spending during an October 2010 conference at a Las Vegas resort.
Officials described the investigation anonymously because it is a personnel matter and the report on the investigation has not been released publicly.
The Defence Department inspector general has completed an investigation into Gen Ward's activities and the issue is under legal review.
Mr Panetta's options regarding Gen Ward are limited by complex laws and military guidelines, but he can demote him and force him to retire at a lower rank.
Because Gen Ward's alleged offences occurred while he was a four-star general, he could be forced to retire as a three-star, which officials said could cost him as much as a million dollars in retirement pay over time. It was not immediately clear whether he could also face criminal charges.
In order for Gen Ward to be demoted to two-star rank, investigators would have to conclude that he also had problems before moving to Africa Command, and officials say that does not appear to be the case. In making his decision, Mr Panetta has to certify to the US Congress that Gen Ward served satisfactorily at the rank at which he is retired.