Corrupt leaders are found around the world including Russia, America, Africa and Europe.
All have tasted the sour flavor corruption offers. But these few mentioned below are exceptionally placed on the top ten list for a special reason which you are about to uncover.
Each of these listed leaders were found guilty of acts of corruption (bribery, extortion, money laundering, looting, embezzlement of public funds, abuse of democracy or human rights, electoral crime, fraud). Top ten as listed below from the least.
10. Arnoldo Aleman, President of Nicaragua (1997 – 2002)
Amount Embezzled: $100 million | Years in Office: 5
José Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo (born January 23, 1946) was the 81st President of Nicaragua from January 10, 1997 to January 10, 2002. In 2003 he was convicted of corruption and sentenced to a 20-year prison, and Transparency International named him the tenth most corrupt leader in recent history.
Return of assets: While there are on-going asset recovery cases in the Philippine’s, Singapore and the United States, the only completed case has been the forfeiture and repatriation of approximately $2.7 million of Aleman’s assets to the Nicaraguan government (by the United States) in 2004.
9. Pavlo Lazarenko, Prime Minister of Ukraine (1996 – 1997)
Amount Embezzled: $114 million to $200 million | Years in Office: 1
Pavlo Lazarenko. Pavlo Ivanovych Lazarenko (Ukrainian: Павло Іванович Лазаренко; born 23 January 1953) is a former Ukrainian politician and former Prime Minister who in August 2006 was convicted and sentenced to prison in the United States for money laundering, wire fraud and extortion.
Return of assets: While Swiss authorities returned an unspecified amount to the Ukraine in 2001, there are still ongoing asset recovery cases in Liechtenstein (amount unspecified), Antigua and Barbuda ($87.1 million), the United States ($271 million), Guernsey ($150 million), Lithuania ($29 million) and Switzerland ($5.4 million)
8. Alberto Fujimori, President of Peru (1990 – 2000)
Amount Embezzled: $600 million | Years in Office: 10
Alberto Fujimori (Spanish pronunciation: [alˈβeɾto fuxiˈmoɾi]; Japanese: [ɸɯʑiꜜmoɾi]; born 26 July 1938 or 4 August 1938) is a Peruvian former politician who served as the President of Peru from 28 July 1990 to 22 November 2000. … He was extradited to face criminal charges in Peru in September 2007.
Return of assets: While there have been no asset recovery cases specifically involving Fujimori, a combined $172.5 million worth of funds – related to Vladmiro Montesinos (see above) – has been returned by: Switzerland ($93 million), the Cayman Islands ($44 million) and the United States ($35.5 million). Cases are still pending in Luxembourg, Panama, Mexico and the United States.
7. Jean-Claude Duvalier, President of Haiti (1971 – 1986)
Amount Embezzled: $300 million to $800 million | Years in Office: 15
Jean-Claude Duvalier was born on July 3, 1951, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, the son of Haitian president Francois Duvalier. When he was 19 years old his father died, and he took over as president, making him the youngest president in the world. Haiti, which was the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest countries on the planet, had been ruled by the corrupt and murderous Francois since 1957. While Jean-Claude wasn’t as brutal as his father, he was just as corrupt–it’s been estimated that he stole between $300 million and $800 million from the country during his reign as president, and at one point the US Commerce Department reported that almost 65% of the country’s revenues had “disappeared”. Shortly after taking office Jean-Claude loosened the vise-like grip on the country that his father had exercised; he freed some political prisoners, eased government censorship of newspapers, TV and magazines and introduced some economic reforms. However, he did not liberalize the country’s political situation, and no opposition to or disagreement with his rule was allowed. The country struggled along until 1985, when discontent with economic mismanagement, corruption and lack of political freedom erupted into demonstrations across much of the country. When government troops chasing protesters invaded a schoolyard and shot and killed three schoolchildren, the demonstrations across the country increased and many of them turned into riots. Duvalier’s security forces, including the dreaded Tonton Macoutes secret police, were unable to quell the mounting unrest and in 1986, when the army demanded his abdication, he and his family fled to France. He left behind him a country with an 80% illiteracy rate, where almost nine out of ten people are unemployed, an infant mortality rate of more than 33%, a per-capita income of less than $300, a life expectancy of 53 years–the lowest in the Western Hemisphere–and a population racked by diseases that have been eradicated in most other countries. Things unfortunately haven’t changed much since then.
Return of assets: Apart from a case being appealed in Switzerland (of $6.5 million), the only other asset recovery related case recorded, is the long running proceedings involving Duvalier assets held in the name of the Foundation Brouilly. Based in Liechtenstein, the Brouilly Foundation is owned by a Panama based company, which in turn is owned by members of the Duvalier family.
6. Slobodan Milosevic, President of Serbia/Yugoslavia (1989 – 2000)
Amount Embezzled: $1 billion | Years in Office: 11
He was born in Požarevac, four months after the Axis invasion of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and raised during the Axis occupation of World War II. … His parents separated in the aftermath of the war. His father, the Serbian Orthodox theologian Svetozar Milošević, committed suicide in 1962.
Slobodan Milosevic spent two-terms as Serbia’s President (between 1990 to 1997) before becoming President of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. He is however, best known for his role in the Yugoslav wars, where he presided over the mayhem and mass murder that took place in Kosovo, Croatia and Bosnia in the nineteen-nineties. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) subsequently indicted him for war crimes and crimes against humanity; the first international war crimes tribunal held since the 1945 International Military Tribunals (held in Nuremberg and Tokyo).
Following the disputed 2000 presidential elections, Milosevic resigned his presidency. He was subsequently arrested by authorities and charged with corruption, the abuse of power and embezzlement. When the investigation faltered over a lack of evidence, he was extradited to The Hague to face the ICTY charges. Defending himself, Milosevic refused to recognise the court’s legitimacy, as it had not been mandated by the UN General Assembly.
According to the Washington Post, initial evidence uncovered by a joint investigation by Yugoslavia, the U.S. Treasury Department and the UN’s chief war crimes prosecutor, suggested that Milosevic, his family and a network of up to 200 loyal “businessmen-politicians”, had embezzled several billion dollars of public funds for personal use. While Yugoslavia’s central bank speculated that as much as $4 billion had been taken, the amount includes funds thought to have been used to keep Serbia functioning through a decade of UN economic sanctions. Notwithstanding this, insiders (including Milosevic’s close relatives) are believed to have laundered hundreds of millions of dollars through dozens of Cypriot front companies, with the trail pointing to Switzerland, Greece, France, Germany, Italy, Lebanon, Israel, Russia, China, Britain, Liechtenstein and South Africa.
In perhaps the biggest single case investigated, Yugoslav officials attempted to track the proceeds from the sale of the state-owned cell phone company PTT Serbia to a consortium of Italian and Greek phone companies. Sold for around $1 billion, $200 million was never deposited into state accounts, and an additional $350 million allegedly went to companies controlled by Milosevic’s friends. Milosevic died of a heart attack in March 2006, before the trial could be concluded.
Return of assets: Despite the amount allegedly stolen, there are no asset recovery cases on record.
5. Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali, President of Tunisia (1987 to 2011)
Amount Embezzled: $1.0 billion to $2.6 billion | Years in Office: 23
Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (Arabic: زين العابدين بن علي, Zayn al-‘Ābidīn bin ‘Alī; born 3 September 1936), commonly known as Ben Ali, is a Tunisian former politician who served as President of Tunisia from 1987 until his ousting in 2011.
Under Ben Ali’s administration, Tunisia’s GDP grew by an average of nearly 5% (year-on-year) for 20 years, with Per capita GDP tripling from $1,201 in 1986 to $3,786 in 2008. So stunning was its growth, that in 2009, a Boston Consulting Group report listed the country as one of Africa’s “Lions”.
While Ben Ali’s reforms halved the country’s poverty rate (from 7.4% in 1990 to an estimated 3.8% in 2005) high unemployment – particularly among the youth – a disenfranchised rural and urban poor, and continued repression, led to increasing unrest. The situation came to a head on 18 December 2010, when Mohamed Bouazizi (a 26-year-old fruit-seller) set himself alight after being humiliated by local policemen. Sparking off what soon became the Arab Spring, a wave of demonstrations and protests exploded across the country, and within a month Ben Ali and his wife fled the country. Denied refuge in France, Ben Ali was offered asylum in Saudi Arabia, and currently lives in Jeddah (the same city where Uganda’s infamous Idi Amin, lived in exile until his death in 2003).
According to a 2015 World Bank research report, Ben Ali’s family and members of his inner circle are alleged to have defrauded the state of between $1 billion and U$2.6 billion over a seven-year period. At one stage it is thought that privileged insiders were capturing 21% of all Tunisia’s private sector profits, mostly through the illegal appropriation of national assets and skimming wealth from most sectors of the country’s economy.
Following Ben Ali’s departure, an investigation into his wealth resulted in the new government confiscating the assets of 114 members of the Ben Ali Clan (including Ben Ali himself). Items seized included 550 properties, 48 boats, 40 share portfolios, 367 bank accounts and over 400 enterprises. The total combined value of these assets was approximately $13 billion, more than one-quarter of Tunisia’s 2011 GDP.
In June 2011 Ben Ali and his wife (Leila Trabelsi) were convicted by a Tunisian court, in absentia, for theft and unlawful possession of cash and jewellery and sentenced to 35 years in prison (NB when Leila fled Tunisia, she is reported to have taken with her over one-and-a-half tons of gold valued at $50 million). While an international arrest warrant has been issued for Ben Ali’s arrest, Saudi Arabia has consistently refused Tunisia’s request to extradite him.
In a dramatic about face, the Tunisian government sparked controversy when they tabled the draft National Reconciliation Act (in June 2015), paving the way for a potential amnesty. This followed a decision by Tunisian courts to annul the 2011 decree that had confiscated Ben Ali and his families assets, ordering that the be returned.
Return of assets: To date funds totalling $68.8 million have been returned: $28.8 million from Lebanon (being the proceeds from a bank account held in the name of Ben Ali’s wife), and $40 million from Switzerland. Apart from this, are asset recovery cases pending in Switzerland ($28.5 million) and Canada ($2.6 million).
4. Sani Abacha, President of Nigeria (1993 – 1998)
Amount Embezzled: $2 billion to $5 billion | Years in Office: 5
Sani Abacha, (born September 20, 1943, Kano, Nigeria—died June 8, 1998, Abuja), Nigerian military leader, who served as head of state (1993–98).
Abacha received his formal military training at Nigerian and British military training colleges. He rose through the ranks in the Nigerian military and by 1983 had achieved the rank of brigadier when he assisted Ibrahim Babangida in overthrowing Shehu Shagari, who had been elected to his second presidential term in 1983.
Muhammad Buhari became Nigeria’s leader, but just two years later Babangida overthrew Buhari and installed himself as leader with Abacha second in command. Elections were held in 1993 and were won by Moshood Abiola, a candidate supposedly supported by Babangida, who, however, annulled the elections and set up a civilian interim government, which Abacha quickly overthrew.
Although Abacha promised a return to democracy, his actions were anything but democratic. He banned political activity of any kind, fired a large portion of the military, controlled the press, and assembled a personal security force of some 3,000 men. While he supported the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and its military arm, ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), in sending troops to restore democracy in Liberia and Sierra Leone, he brutally suppressed dissent at home. Abiola and Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military leader of Nigeria (1976–79), were jailed for treason. Wole Soyinka, Nigeria’s Nobel laureate, was also charged with treason, although he had voluntarily left the country. Perhaps Abacha’s most brutal act was the imprisonment, trial, and subsequent execution for treason of writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and other Ogoni activists who were concerned with the environmental exploitation of their region by multinational petroleum companies.
Despite appalling human rights abuses (which at one stage lead to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting approving the unprecedented step of suspending Nigeria from the Commonwealth) – from an economic perspective – Abacha’s five-year rule was a miracle. External debt was reduced from $36 billion to $27 billion, foreign-exchange reserves increased from $494 million to $9.6 billion, and inflation was slashed from 54% to 8.5%.
While still shrouded in mystery, Abacha’s rule was cut short when he died of a suspected heart attack on 8 June 1998. During his five years in power, he and his family allegedly embezzled between $3 billion and $5 billion. According to the World Bank, part of this wealth was obtained through bribes paid by foreign companies doing business in Nigeria, and part stolen directly from the country’s Central Bank. The funds were laundered through a network of front companies in several jurisdictions, before being deposited into bank accounts (controlled by Abacha and his family) in Switzerland, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein, Jersey and the Bahamas
Return of assets: The return of the Abacha fortune remains one of the most colourful of all the leaders on the list. In return for dropping criminal prosecution (in 2002), the Abacha family agreed to return $1.2 billion taken from the Central Bank. Jersey returned a further $160 million the same year. This was followed by Switzerland, who in June 2006 (after numerous failed appeals by the Abacha family) agreed to repatriate $505 million. Ironically, according to Swiss and Nigerian advocacy groups, around half of this amount may have since been ‘re-stolen’ by corrupt officials! After a hiatus of five years Jersey returned a further $36 million and Liechtenstein $225 million (after the longest running financial court case in the principality’s history). In August 2014, a further $480 million worth of Abacha related bank deposits were frozen by the United States Department of Justice, the largest forfeiture in the agency’s history. Switzerland returned a further $380 million a year later. While over $2.5 billion has been returned to date, asset recovery cases are still pending in the Bahamas, Ireland, United Kingdom and the United States.
3. Mobutu Sese Seko, President of Zaire now Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) (1965 – 1997)
Amount Embezzled: $4 to $5 billion | Years in Office: 32
The product of a missionary school education, Mobutu Sese Seko Koko Ngbendu wa za Banga (meaning “the all-powerful warrior who, because of endurance and an inflexible will to win, will go from conquest to conquest leaving fire in his wake”), was a serial coup plotter. During the 1960 Congo Crises, he led the coup that ousted Patrice Lumumba, the country’s first democratically elected leader. In return, he was appointed commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Less than five years later he led a second coup, installing himself as President. Declaring a regime d’exception, he assumed sweeping powers, and went on to rule the country for almost a third of a century.
The original ‘Big Man’ of Africa, Mobutu consolidated and kept power by creating a vast patronage network. Built on the exploitation of the country’s immense mineral wealth, Mobutu used it to effectively nullify any opposition. Endemic governmental corruption, mismanagement and neglect over a number of years, led to hyperinflation (4,000% p.a. by 1991), a large external debt, and massive currency devaluations. Civil unrest soon followed.
Amidst all of this, Mobutu managed to amass one of the largest personal fortunes in the world. While the actual amount will never be known, he is alleged to have embezzled between $4 billion to $5 billion (an amount almost equivalent to the country’s foreign debt at the time it was forced to default on its international loans in 1989). His excesses where legendary, and included having the world’s leading pastry chef, Gaston Lenôtre, flown in from Paris by Concorde to personally deliver his birthday cake. While not publically condoned, corruption was so systemic under Mobutu, that at one stage he advised party delegates that “if you steal, do not steal too much at a time. You may be arrested … Yibana mayele – Steal cleverly, little by little”!
Holding onto power for 32 years, Mobutu proved himself adept at maintaining rule in the face of internal rebellions, external invasions, and attempted coups. He finally relinquished power in May 1996, following an uprising led by Laurent Kabila (GA Zairian Tutsi). In the space of just three weeks, the uprising turned into to a full-scale political rebellion. Mobutu, already terminally ill, fled to Togo and then to Morocco, where he died from prostate cancer the following year.
Aside from the title as Africa’s most corrupt ruler, Mobutu is best known for his role in hosting the heavy weight world championship title fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, in Kinshasa in October 1974. Known as the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, each fighter was paid $5 million for their appearance.
Return of assets: While there has been talk of a complex network of Cayman Island shell companies, apart from a few Swiss bank accounts, little is known of the whereabouts of Mobutu’s wealth. In 2009, Switzerland unfroze $6.68 million worth of Mobutu’s assets, ending a failed 12-year attempt to repatriate funds back to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). At the centre of this decision was a lack of “cooperation” from the DRC government, who’s Deputy Prime Minster was one of Mobutu’s son. This lack of cooperation resulted in the funds being handed back to the Mobutu family.
2. Ferdinand Marcos, President of the Philippines (1965 – 1986)
Amount Embezzled: $5 billion to $10 billion | Years in Office: 21
Philippine president Ferdinand Edralin Marcos (1917-1989) began his career in politics with the murder of Julio Nalundasan in 1935, and ended it with the murder of Benigno Aquino, Jr., in 1983. Some believe his entire life was based on fraud, deceit, and plunder, and his two decades as president have come to epitomize the worst excesses of autocratic rule.
Ferdinand Marcos was born in Sarrat, Ilocos North, on September 11, 1917, to Josefa Edralin and Mariano Marcos, both teachers. Mariano was later a two-term congressman and during World War II, a collaborator with the Japanese. Subsequently he was tied to four water buffalo by Filipino guerrillas and pulled apart. Marcos’ real father, a man Marcos claimed was his “godfather,” was a wealthy Chinese named Ferdinand Chua. He was a well-connected municipal judge who was responsible for much of Marcos’ unusually good luck. Among other things, Chua paid for young Marcos’ schooling and managed to influence the Philippine Supreme Court to throw out the solid testimony which in 1939 had convicted Marcos of murder.
During his 21 years in power, the Philippines became one of the most heavily indebted countries in Asia. External debts increased from $360 million (in 1962) to $28 billion (by 1986). Wages fell by roughly one third, and the number of people living below the poverty line almost doubled (from 18 million to 35 million).
Over the same period, Marcos is alleged to have embezzled between $5 billion and $10 billion. According to the World Bank, the bulk of this wealth was accumulated through six key channels: takeover of large private enterprises; creation of state-owned monopolies in key sectors of the economy; awarding of government loans to private individuals acting as fronts for Marcos or his associates; directly raiding the country’s treasury and other government financial institutions; kickbacks and commissions from firms working in the Philippines; and skimming off foreign aid and other forms of international assistance. The proceeds were laundered through shell corporations, then invested in real estate within the United States; or deposited into various domestic and offshore banking institutions, using a mixture of pseudonyms, numbered accounts and code names.
Known for their lavish living, an inventory of assets left at the Malacanang Palace in Manila (taken soon after their exile) included over a thousand pairs of shoes belonging to the First Lady, 888 handbags, 71 pairs of sunglasses and 65 parasols. On their arrival in the United States, jewellery, now valued at over $21 million, was seized by the US Bureau of Customs and returned to the Philippines. Currently being used as a “virtual exhibit” in an online anti-corruption campaign, the current government has recently announced plans to auction if off.
While Imelda Marcos was found guilty on corruption charges in the mid-1990s and sentenced to a minimum of 12 years in prison, the conviction was overturned on appeal. She is currently a member of the House of Representatives, while her son, Ferdinand Jr., is a Senator (having recently failed in his bid to become the country’s Vice President in the May 9 presidential polls). Her daughter, Imee, is the governor of their home province, Ilocos Norte.
Return of assets: Since its inception in 1986, The Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), a quasi-judicial agency established to recover the ill-gotten wealth accumulated during the Marcos regime, has managed to recover nearly $3.6 billion in assets. Included in this is $688 million returned by Switzerland in 2004. The total costs incurred in achieving this have been around $61 million. If civil asset recovery cases still pending in Switzerland, the Philippines, Singapore and the United States are successful, recovery efforts could reach $4.2 billion by the time the PCGG winds-up.
1. Mohamed Suharto, President of Indonesia (1967 – 1998)
Amount Embezzled: $15 billion to $35 billion | Years in Office: 31
Taking top spot in our list of most corrupt world leaders of recent history is President Mohamed Suharto of Indonesia. The country’s second president, Suharto gained control of the government in 1967 (soon after a failed left-wing coup) and went on to rule for the next 31 years.
Suharto’s ‘New Order’ policy (implemented soon after taking power) was built on a strong, centralised military-dominated government, which became critical to maintaining stability over a diverse, sprawling country of over 13,000 islands. A strong anti-Communist stance won him economic and diplomatic support from the West; while rapid and sustained economic growth, and dramatically improving health, education and living standards, guaranteed him popular support at home.
Between 1965 and 1996, Indonesia’s GNP averaged a remarkable 6.7% per annum, with GDP increasing from $806 to $4,114 per capita. By 1997, Indonesia’s poverty rate had fallen to 11% (from 45% in 1970), life expectancy was 67 years (up from 47 years in 1966), infant mortality had been cut by more than 60%, and the country had reached rice self-sufficiency (an achievement which earned Suharto a gold medal from the FAO).
By the mid-1990s however, growing authoritarianism and widespread corruption had sown the seeds of discontent. The same economic growth that had ensured Suharto’s popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, had resulted in a rapid expansion of what Indonesians had dubbed KKN: Korupsi (corruption), Kolusi (collusion) and Nepotisme (nepotism).
Using a system of patronage to ensure loyalty, Suharto managed to amass a fortune of between $15 billion and $35 billion. The control of state-run monopolies, access to exclusive supply contracts and special tax breaks were given to companies owned by his four children, family members and close friends. Many organisations included a Suharto crony in various business activities, as it became the only way of reducing the ‘uncertainties’ caused by bureaucratic red tape. In return, kickbacks and tribute payments (usually cloaked as charitable donations) were made to dozens of foundations (‘yayasams’) overseen by Suharto. While created to ‘assist’ with the construction of rural schools and hospitals, they effectively functioned as the President’s personal piggy bank. Donating millions to yayasams became part of the cost of doing business in Indonesia, with financial institutions required to contribute 2.5% of their annual profits each year. According to Robert Elson, Suharto’s biographer:
“corruption [was] a well-managed franchise, like McDonald’s or Subway … Everybody knew how much you had to pay and to whom. Suharto didn’t invent the depth and breadth of corruption. What he did was to manage it on a scale that no one had ever been able to do before.”
In 1998 the tide turned when the Asian Financial Crises took Indonesia to the brink of economic collapse. Rising discontent led to riots and demonstrations forcing Suharto to resign. Two years later he was charged with misusing $550 million from seven charities he controlled while president, and temporarily placed under house arrest. Pronounced to ill to stand trial, another attempt (two years later) ended the same way. Finally, in July 2007, a $1.5 billion civil lawsuit was filed against Suharto. The case was never heard, as he died a few months later.
Return of assets: In 2010, the Indonesian government successfully brought a private civil action against the Suharto family for the recovery of $307.4 million. Apart from this (and the cases mentioned above), the only other case recorded, relates to $50.4 million worth of assets controlled by Suharto’s son, “Tommy”, which was frozen by Guernsey in 2002. Tommy subsequently served five years of a 15-year prison sentence for ordering the murder of the Indonesian Supreme Court judge who convicted him of corruption in connection to a (unrelated) multimillion-dollar real estate scam case.