PORT MOODY: The mayor of Port Moody, says he is taking a leave of absence to clear his name after being charged with sexual assault.

Robert Vagramov said Thursday that preparing a defence will require his full attention as he fights the charge in court, so he has decided to take a leave of absence starting Friday.

“The allegation that has led to the charge that is out there is false and will be strongly challenged in court,” he told a news conference.

“When the allegation surfaced during the election campaign last year, I was horrified and taken completely by surprise. Now 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.”

Vagramov said he has co-operated with the authorities during their investigation, adding that he has passed a polygraph test and provided the results to them.

“As someone who has been in contact with victims of sexual assault, I hope that this false accusation does not take away from validity of other cases and I am thankful to live in a place where the police take such claims extremely seriously,” he said.

“I look forward to airing and clearing my name in court.”

The B.C. Prosecution Service said in a statement Thursday it appointed lawyer Michael Klein as a special prosecutor in relation to an investigation of a sexual assault alleged to have occurred in Coquitlam in 2015.

The service said Klein approved the charge and Vagramov is to appear in Port Coquitlam provincial court on April 25.

Vagramov was 28 when he was elected mayor last fall after serving one term on council.

The Prosecution Service said Klein was appointed in December because it was considered in the public interest to do so. The appointment of a special prosecutor is intended to avoid any potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice.