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Port Moody Mayor Robert Vagramov reads a statement during a news conference at City Hall on Thursday, March 28, 2019.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Port Moody Mayor Robert Vagramov is taking a leave of absence after being charged with sexual assault stemming from an incident alleged to have occurred in 2015.

Mr. Vagramov said the allegation is false and that he will be challenging it in court.

“When the allegation surfaced during the election campaign last year, I was horrified and taken completely by surprise,” he told media on Thursday, reading from a prepared statement.

“The tale grew as it was being told, and I want to be absolutely clear: This allegation is false. I intend on fighting it every step of the way, including filing a suit for defamation for this continued attack on my character.”

Mr. Vagramov made his comments at City Hall, hours after B.C.’s Prosecution Service announced that the mayor had been charged with sexual assault stemming from an incident alleged to have occurred in Coquitlam four years ago. Mayor and council convened an emergency meeting later that day.

The mayor said he has co-operated with authorities throughout the investigation, “including agreeing to a polygraph test about the events in question, which I have passed and which I have provided to the authorities.”

Mr. Vagramov said his leave of absence, from his roles as mayor and chair of the police board, will begin Friday. Councillor Diana Dilworth will serve as acting mayor.

The prosecution service said in a statement that Michael Klein, a senior Vancouver lawyer in private practice, was appointed special prosecutor for this case on Dec. 17, 2018, but the announcement was postponed pending completion of the investigation and approval of charges.

“Following consultation with the special prosecutor, and taking into account the specific circumstances of the case, the branch concluded that issuing a media statement announcing the appointment was appropriate at this time,” the statement read.

Mr. Vagramov is scheduled to make his first appearance in Port Coquitlam Provincial Court on April 25.

He first joined Port Moody city council in 2014 and was elected mayor last October, ousting incumbent Mike Clay. Elected at age 26, he is the city’s youngest-ever mayor.

Mr. Vagramov drew criticism during the election campaign when a 2014 video surfaced showing him asking a homeless man to shotgun a beer in exchange for a sandwich as part of a “random acts of kindness” challenge. He later explained in a Facebook video that he had been “fresh out of college” at the time, and that his “heart’s in the right place but obviously, super cringey watching that now.”

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