Retired Air Force Gen. Arthur Lichte, under investigation for alleged sexual misconduct, may face court-martial proceedings years after retiring from the service, officials tell Military.com.
In addition, his current role as a member of the board of directors for the European aerospace giant Airbus hangs in the balance pending the investigation results.
Lichte was commander of Air Mobility Command, headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois, between 2007 and 2010. The alleged sexual assault occurred sometime between 2007 and 2009 under his command, according to Tony Carr, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel whose watchdog blog, John Q. Public, first reported the news.
An internal command memo, obtained by Carr, alleges Lichte "used his position of power to coerce sexual contact." Additional media reports identified the victim in this case as a female colonel.
Air Force Office of Special Investigations spokeswoman Linda Card confirmed to Military.com that OSI is overseeing the "investigation, and it is open and ongoing."
"When OSI embarks on an investigation, it is inherently a criminal investigation," a military lawyer told Military.com on Wednesday.
"It's driven by the nature of the allegation from the get-go," the lawyer said, speaking generally to military investigations. "We [the Air Force] can't take an allegation of sexual assault and turn it from a criminal investigation into an administrative one."
The lawyer said that the Uniform Code of Military Justice retains jurisdiction over retired members, adding the service looks at about "10 cases a year" recalling a retiree, or members of the Reserve or Guard, for the purpose of considering a "court-martial for misconduct committed while on active duty."
Lichte retired on Jan. 1, 2010, after more than 38 years of service.
"Even as the investigation plays out, as we get more facts and develop more evidence that indicates there might be a statute of limitations problem, or issues that indicate it can prohibit us from criminal prosecution by the Air Force, we're not just going to stop the investigation," the lawyer said.
The lawyer added, "Statute of limitations is something that we're discussing at the beginning of an investigation because a part of it will dictate if there's even a criminal allegation to be investigated."
However, since 2014, service members can be prosecuted for sexual assault-related offenses, such as rape, without regard to time limitations. The fiscal 2014 National Defense Authorization Act amended the five-year statute of limitations for rape under the UCMJ.
From the day an alleged misconduct is filed to the last day of a trial, the lawyer said, the process will likely "take over a year."
In addition, the former four-star could be unseated as a board member from Airbus, a position he's held since 2010.
"Airbus has become aware of the allegations, and we are closely following the Air Force investigation," spokesman Jamie Darcy recently told Military.com. "As an organization, Airbus has a culture of zero tolerance for sexual misconduct."
Lichte could not be reached for comment.
When asked if Airbus would terminate its business arrangement with Lichte if the Air Force investigation turned up evidence of misconduct, Darcy replied, "As a policy we don't publicly speculate on hypothetical situations."
Lichte was also appointed as the ninth member of the Air Transport Services Group Inc. board of directors in 2013.
Officials with the aviation company, based in Wilmington, Ohio, told Military.com on Wednesday they were "aware of reports of an Air Force inquiry pertaining to his military service, and we will have no comment on the matter until after the investigation is completed."