WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has demoted the former head of US Africa Command amid accusations he spent thousands of dollars on lavish travel and other unauthorized expenses, a senior US official said Tuesday.
Panetta stripped General William ‘‘Kip’’ Ward of a star, which means that he will now retire as a three-star lieutenant general despite arguments from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff against the demotion.
Ward also has been ordered to repay the government $82,000.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to discuss a personnel matter.
The demotion comes as retired Army General David Petraeus resigned as CIA director because of an extramarital affair and Marine General John Allen is being investigated over potentially improper communications with a woman.
According to the official, Panetta reviewed the Ward matter and concluded that the wrongdoing found by the Defense Department inspector general, in a report released this year, demanded accountability.
In a statement issued Tuesday, a spokesman for Ward said the general ‘‘has never been motivated by personal gain and fulfilled each and every mission assigned to him and served his country and the men and women assigned to his commands with distinction.’’
The spokesman, Chris Garrett, added, ‘‘While General Ward is not perfect he has always been guided by his faith in God and the belief that there is no greater honor as a patriot than to lead those who choose to serve our nation in the armed forces.’’
Retiring as a three-star will cost Ward about $30,000 a year in retirement pay — giving him close to $208,802 a year rather than the $236,650 he would get as a four-star.
Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, urged Panetta to allow Ward to retire at his full four-star general rank, according to defense officials.
The inspector general’s report found that Ward used military vehicles to shuttle his wife on shopping trips and to a spa and billed the government for a refueling stop overnight in Bermuda, where the couple stayed in a $750 suite.
The report detailed lengthy stays at lavish hotels for Ward, his wife, and his staff members, and the use of five-vehicle motorcades when he traveled to Washington.
It also said Ward and his wife, Joyce, accepted dinner and Broadway show tickets from a government contractor during a trip during which he went backstage to meet actor Denzel Washington. The couple and several staff members also spent two nights at the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
Other charges were that Ward often extended his overseas trips — particularly those to the United States — for personal reasons, resulting in ‘‘exponential’’ increases in costs.
Although the report included responses from Ward to a number of the allegations, investigators often found records and statements that contradicted his explanations.
At one point, Ward defended the Bermuda layover, saying that it came up on short notice, which is why his security team had to stay there longer.
The report found records showing that the layover had been planned for at least four days in advance.
A common theme running through the report was Ward’s insistence that his wife travel with him at government cost, even though it was often not authorized and she performed few official duties.