PUBLISHED: 18:09 EST, 15 August 2012 | UPDATED: 18:10 EST, 15 August 2012
A four-star Army general who was the first head of the U.S. African Command is under investigation for possibly lavishing hundreds of thousands of dollars improperly on travel and hotels.
Gen. William ‘Kip’ Ward, who at four stars has the highest rank in the Army, could be demoted if the imminent results of the 17-month investigation reveal he spent money inappropriately.
Officials told the Associated Press that Ward, 63, is facing allegations that he allowed unauthorized people, including family members, to fly on government planes.
Questions: Army Gen. William ‘Kip’ Ward, pictured during his role as head of U.S. Africa Command in 2008, is under investigation after allegations he improperly lavished money on hotels and travel
There are also accusations that he spent excessively on hotel rooms, transport and ‘other’ expenses – all while traveling as head of Africa Command, a role he started in 2007 on its creation.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will make a final decision on the matter and Ward’s potential demotion before the end of the month, defense officials said.
While the amount was not disclosed, it raises comparisons with the $823,000 allegedly spent byGeneral Services Administration staff, accused of lavish spending at a 2010 Las Vegas conference.
Panetta can demote Ward and force him to retire at a lower rank.
He had sought to retire last year and carried out the paperwork to make it possible, before attending his retirement ceremony in April 2011 at Fort Myer, Virginia.
But the Army has since put his retirement on hold as the investigation is under way – and he will only be allowed to retire once they conclude which rank he will be.
Decisions: The investigation has taken 17 months and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, pictured, will make a decision soon. He could demote Ward from a four-star general, the highest Army ranking
Future: Ward had wanted to retire from the Defense Department but it was put on hold until the end of the investigation. He is working as an assistant to the vice chief of the Army in the meantime
He has been working in Northern Virginia, serving as a special assistant to the vice chief of the Army.
Because Ward’s alleged offenses 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 $1 million in retirement pay.
It was not immediately clear whether Ward also could face criminal charges.
It is unlikely he would be demoted as far as two-star rank; investigators would have to conclude that he also had problems before Africa Command, and officials said that does not appear to be the case.
The investigation has dragged on so long that Ward technically has been demoted from his four-star general rank to two-star general. Under military guidelines, if a general is not serving in a four-star command or office for more than 60 days, he or she is automatically reduced to two-star rank.
Big spender: While the alleged amount has not been disclosed, AP said it is comparable to the lavish spending of GSA staff in Las Vegas, pictured, during a conference in 2010 – $823,000
Subsequently, Ward’s base pay went from more than $20,000 a month as a four-star to about $14,000 a month as a two-star. Officials said that if he is allowed to retire as a three-star or four-star, he would not receive any back pay for the 15 months he served at the lower rank.
Ward was commissioned into the infantry in 1971 and served overseas in Korea, Egypt, Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Israel and Germany.
In his role in the Africa Command, he was meet with African leaders and work to expand and strengthen U.S. military ties so that the nations there are better able to provide for their own defense.
A request for comment from Ward was not immediately fulfilled on Wednesday.