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Nov. 15, 2018

Reported by New York Times

Charles Homans


At one of the last rallies of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, I found myself speaking with a pair of middle-aged women who emigrated years ago from the Philippines. We got to talking about Rodrigo Duterte, the belligerent strongman who was elected president there six months earlier, and I asked them if they thought Duterte and Trump would get along. “Oh, my gosh!” the first woman said. “Probably — they are the same!”

Duterte had won in a landslide on his promises to extrajudicially exterminate the nation’s drug dealers and users, a pledge understood by Filipinos as a proxy battle in the country’s long war against endemic corruption. In 2006, Transparency International ranked the Philippines 121st out of the 163 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index (that’s the bad end); a similar ranking the following year by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy rated it the most corruptnation in Asia.

“I came from the Philippines, right?” the second woman said. “When corruption sets in, it doesn’t stop at the top. It goes down. Every appointee will be somebody that is corrupt or can be corrupted, can be silenced. Look at now. If you have a corrupt judicial system — I think the only thing that’s standing now in America that isn’t so very corrupted is the military.”

“And you think Trump can stop that?” I asked.

“I will take him,” she replied. “Because I know what Hillary did already.”


Of all the apocalyptic prophecies on offer at Trump rallies, this was in a way the most familiar. An obsession with corruption is an American tradition; it dates back to the founding fathers, who declared independence in part on the conviction that the British monarchy was wielding its expanding financial and patronage power to subvert the independence of Parliament. In a 1994 essay, the historian John Murrin observed that after the revolution, “anxiety about corruption, instead of receding in the republic designed to destroy it, acquired unprecedented force in American public life, sometimes almost enough to overwhelm all other concerns.”

You could argue that Americans have been well served by this anxiety. By international standards, we live in a cleanly run country, and always have. For all but two of the 23 years that Transparency International has published its index, the United States has appeared in the Top 20 least-evidently-corrupt countries. It’s true that we have had our share of spectacular episodes: the Whiskey Ring and Boss Tweed in the 19th century; Teapot Dome and Abscam in the 20th. In 2006, the Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff was convicted of felony corruption, bringing 20 people, including a congressman, down with him. In 2011, Rod Blagojevich, the Democratic former governor of Illinois, went to prison for trying to auction off Barack Obama’s old Senate seat. But the fact that these incidents remain so memorable is the point; they were seen as unacceptable aberrations, with consequences in the courts of law and public opinion. People went to prison, lost elections and, in Abramoff’s case, were played by Kevin Spacey in a biopic.

And yet, in a Gallup poll released three years ago, 75 percent of American respondents said that corruption was “widespread” in the country’s government. Among the other countries in Transparency International’s Top 20 that were also surveyed by Gallup, none were remotely as pessimistic about corruption as the United States. No other country has done so well at containing corruption while leaving so many of its people convinced that it has done poorly.

If this reflects the legacy of the founders’ anxieties, it also reflects Americans’ expansive definition of “corruption.” The idea suffuses our politics and hangs heavily over any intersection of money and politics, however legal: The practice of earmarking appropriations bills is “inherently corrupt,” in the view of the former Republican senator Tom Coburn; the sweeping tax bill that Republicans hastily drafted and passed last year would have them “nailed with corruption,” Howard Dean vowed; post-Citizens United election spending is a “corrupt campaign-finance system,” in Bernie Sanders’s formulation.

Is it even worth distinguishing between this unseemly-but-legal stuff and true corruption if the outcome is, arguably, not much different? It’s an interesting question, but one you would only think to ask in a country, like the United States, where illegal corruption is relatively rare. The true cost of illegal corruption, in countries where it is rampant, is rarely the direct one; it is the way even the most banal and minor forms of it erode the rule of law, introducing uncertainty into every dealing with the state and reducing it to the self-interest of its human agents: not just politicians but also customs inspectors, permit issuers, police officers, anyone vested with enough power to extract a dollar.

Eventually the idea of reforming institutions starts to seem bewilderingly difficult — harder than just tearing them down. This is why anti-corruption crusades are expedient platforms for demagogues and authoritarians who, like Duterte, have no serious interest in corruption — the Philippines had generally improved under his predecessor and has slid back down the rankings during his presidency — but are eager to tear down institutions for very different reasons.

Trump’s invocations of corruption, like Duterte’s, have rarely been far from his own open pining for unchecked authority. “You look at the corruption at the top of the F.B.I. — it’s a disgrace,” he told the hosts of “Fox and Friends” in April. “And our Justice Department, which I try and stay away from — but at some point I won’t.”

What is incredible about this is not just that so many Americans now accept the sort of drastic rhetoric that usually only flies in countries with actual, existential corruption problems. It’s the fact that so many people accept it from, of all people, Donald Trump. “The Democrat I.T. scandal is key to much of the corruption we see today,” he tweeted on June 7. This was a week before New York’s attorney general filed a lawsuit seeking to disband Trump’s philanthropic foundation following a two-year investigation, alleging extensive campaign-law violations and extravagant self-dealing. (Trump blamed the lawsuit on “sleazy New York Democrats,” but the state’s evidence included a note in Trump’s own handwriting diverting foundation funds to his personal legal expenses.)


“Total corruption — the Witch Hunt has turned out to be a scam!” Trump tweeted about the F.B.I. on June 20, two days after Forbes reported that his commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, had lied to the Office of Government Ethics about his stakes in companies co-owned by the Chinese government and allies of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. “So many questions, so much corruption!” Trump fumed about the F.B.I. (again) on June 28, the day after the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief ethics officer reported that he was assisting in investigations of his own boss, Scott Pruitt, the target of 13 federal inquiries into his spending and management as the agency’s administrator. (A week later, Pruitt resigned.)

And that’s just in June. With each new revelation, reporters dutifully observe that it would be, for any other presidency, a defining scandal. This is a country where, as recently as 2009, failing to account for the use of a borrowed limo on an income-tax return, as Tom Daschle did, could force you to withdraw from a cabinet appointment. How did we get from there to Wilbur Ross, let alone Trump himself?

Forget political tribalism for a moment. There was a time, back before Trump locked up his party’s 2016 nomination, when a plurality of Republican primary voters decided to take at face value the anti-corruption bona fides of a man whose most sustained previous relationship with politics was navigating the favor exchanges of 1970s Brooklyn Democratic clubhouses; who had spent much of the last decade in business with an unambiguously corrupt Azerbaijani oligarch; who had derided the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which forbids American companies to bribe officials in other countries, as a “ridiculous,” “horrible law”; whose companies, according to his own campaign disclosure form, carried at least $315 million in debt to an opaque web of financial institutions, many of them in foreign countries. It’s still a nagging question: This guy?

It’s possible, however, to see Trump not as an exception but as the logical conclusion of a national fear of corruption that long ago curdled into a self-satisfied conviction that everything and everyone in politics already is corrupt. Trump campaigned on the idea, after all. He has always had a knack for channeling Americans’ fundamental cynicism about politics, no doubt because he shares it. In May, he mused that he was considering commuting Blagojevich’s 14-year sentence; the governor, he argued, had really only been convicted of “being stupid and saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say.” Most Americans would probably agree. If you believe all politicians are crooks, it no longer seems to matter much whether a particular one among them is: The answer to “This guy?” becomes “Why not this guy?” And in the end, you get the country you thought you had all along.

Charles Homans is the politics editor for the magazine. He last wrote about the rallies Trump has held since becoming president.

Sep. 14, 2018
Testing Cancer

Cancer issue

Sep. 14, 2018

By Amy Bingham

From drug possession to tax fraud, city officials in Washington, D.C. are notorious for being less than law abiding.

In the past four years half of D.C.'s top government officials, including D.C. councilmembers and the mayor, have been under investigation by either federal authorities or the D.C. board of elections. Two have resigned and two have served prison time.

Another name was added to the ever-growing list of indicted district leaders this week when D.C.'s council chairman resigned and pled guilty charges of bank fraud.

While Mayor Vincent Gray insists he does not "think there's widespread corruption here," here's a look at some of the politicians who are running the nation's capital city and racking up federal charges in the process.

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Kwame Brown

Job Description: D.C. Council Chairman

Charges: a felony for bank fraud and a misdemeanor for "unlawful cash campaign expenditure"

What happened: Brown pled guilty on Friday to overstating his income by tens of thousands of dollars on a bank loan application to qualify for a home equity loan to buy a boat, according to charges filed Wednesday with D.C.'s district court.

Kwame was also charged with a misdemeanor on Thursday for allegedly failing to report $170,000 in campaign contributions that were held in a "side account" during his 2008 campaign.

Consequence: resigned his council seat on Wednesday

Past Controversies: Brown's tenure as the second-highest ranking District official, behind the mayor, got a rocky start when the chairman ordered district officials to get him a "fully loaded" all-black Lincoln Navigator SUV to drive to during his tenure.

When the SUV arrived with a gray interior, Brown demanded another vehicle with a black interior. D.C. taxpayers footed the $1,600 bill to rush a new Navigator to the District in time for Kwame's inauguration and are still paying nearly $2,000 per month to lease the SUV, the Washington City Paper reports.

The District of Colombia is facing a $600 million budget shortfall for 2012.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mike Coppola/Getty Images
Vincent Gray

Job Description: Mayor

What happened: Gray's 2010 mayoral campaign has been charged with paying his fellow mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown to stay in the race ito continue attacking his opponent, then-incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty, and thereby help Gray's election prospects. Brown says Gray promised him a job with the District if Gray won the election and paid him thousands of dollars in false money orders.

Consequence: Gray has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but his campaign treasurer Thomas Gore pled guilty in May to obstruction of justice, a felony, for destroying evidence and three misdemeanor charges for making campaign donations under someone else's name. Gore faces 12 to 18 months in prison and a possible fine of $3,000 to $30,000.

The mayor's campaign consultant Howard Brooks pled guilty to making false statements to federal prosecutors. He faces a maximum of six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Linda Davidson/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Marion Barry

Job Description: Mayor for Life, Councilmember for Ward 8

Charges: misdemeanors for cocaine possession, stalking and tax fraud

What happened: Marion Barry, who served as D.C. mayor for more than 20 years, pled guilty to cocaine possession after he was caught on video smoking crack cocaine in a Washington hotel room. Barry served six months in federal prison and was re-elected to another term as mayor after his release.

D.C.'s "Mayor for Life" has also been found guilty of a misdemeanor tax charge for failing to pay the majority of his income taxes during the five years after he left office in 1999. Authorities dropped misdemeanor charges for allegedly stalking his ex-girlfriend and having traces of marijuana and cocaine in his car.

Consequence: Served 6 months in prison for the cocaine charge

The Washington Post/Getty Images
Harry Thomas

Job Description:Councilmember for Ward 5

Charges: federal theft and filing false tax returns, both felonies

What happened: In January, Thomas pled guilty to stealing more than $350,000 in taxpayer money assigned to youth baseball and arts programs and diverting it instead to buy a $58,000 Audi Quattro Premium SUV, a $23,245 Victory motorcycle, expensive clothing, restaurant meals and luxury vacations, according to theU.S. attorney's office. Thomas was the first sitting D.C. city councilmember to be charged with a felony

Consequences: Thomas resigned his city council seat in January and was sentenced to 38 months in prison.

Michael Temchine/For The Washington Post/Getty Images
Michael Brown

Job Description: At-large councilmember

What happened: Michael Brown seems to have a problem paying his taxes. Last year the councilmember owed more than $14,000 in unpaid property taxes and nearly as much in unpaid income taxes. The IRS filed a lien on his house in 2010 seeking more than $50,000 in income taxes that Brown failed to pay from 2004 through 2008, the Washington Times reports.

Brown is a leading advocate on the council for raising taxes on D.C. residents who earn more than $200,000.

Consequences: Brown is on a repayment plan for his back taxes.

Kevin Wolf/AP Photo
Jim Graham

Job Description: Councilmember for Ward 1

Charges: Chief of Staff was charged with two felonies for bribery

What happened: While Graham has not been charged with any wrongdoing, his chief of staff Ted Loza was sentenced eight months in prison for accepting a $1,500 bribe from a taxi cab industry representative while the council was debating taxi reform in 2008.

Consequences: Loza pled guilty to two counts of accepting illegal bribes and one count of making false statements.

Jan. 24, 2018
Pit Crew

Change has come.

Jan. 24, 2018


In situations where money talks, everybody of a desirable interest would spare their ears to listen very carefully and where power and political influence seems to rule in a country, then this ultimately and inevitably becomes corruption’s playgroundtoo. We live in a time that is inhabited by some of the most corrupt politicians of the world. It honestly does not take much other than having persuasive talent, verbal ambition, valuable contacts in the right places at time and a heap of money to squander around loosely in order to master the art of bribing somebody in high places and to place them in a position where something dear to them would be threatened if they do not comply to whatever proposal you were brave enough to bring to their tables at short, random and unexpected notice. This is primarily more than enough to turn a good yet average and common politician into a corrupt individual that is ever ready to bask in the life of ‘white-collar’ crime.

In this fast paced world, there are many corrupt individuals who are notoriously famous for their illegal and unlawful deeds at the cost of state taxes and other funds that don’t belong to them. Situations of this nature has spread throughout the world and isn’t uncommon in most cases. Below are 10 of the most corrupt politicians of the world. You may already have prior knowledge of some of them, however it’s time to bring to light about these politicians darkness that they have been shadowing in for the duration of their seats in their cheated positions until being exposed and de-badged of their statuses.

10. Joseph Estrada

Former President of the Philippines

At the very beginning, before he has been officially elected as president, he used the art of manipulation to create a “land of make believe” by using the poverty circumstances of the majority of the Philippines against them in order to aid in his campaign and manifesto which obviously helped in his election process as he somehow predicted that , it’s the only way to gain the respect and voting favor of the lower class first so that the higher society members could recognize him as being a true president that is there to genuinely improve the well-being of the people starting from the lowest to the highest in society. To his shame, there was obviously an ulterior motive behind his charade that he managed to put on as his won the votes and has been elected as president of the Philippines in those years.

Joseph now counted among the most corrupt politicians of the world, had started off as an Actor in his early life and no wonder he was able to pull this off successfully in deceiving the people who genuinely believed and saw a ray of hope in him. Joseph Estrada has been corrupt since before he even became president, and sadly the Philippines were too vulnerable to see it. Joseph Estrada has been accused and brought to books and is believed to have taken more than $80 Million in bribes and corrupt dealings.

9. Arnoldo Aleman

Former President of Nicaragua

Being the 81st President of any country should be a huge honor to every Man, regardless of how many Presidents were before you, the ‘President’ title simply means, head of the Nation, Leader of an entire country, World recognition, being an official part of a country’s history etc. However some people seem to not realize the novelty, importance, honor and integrity of their Presidential titles and tend to abuse the privileges handed to them by the state. Presidents are under oath too, however for some people like Arnoldo, all this doesn’t mean as much as having all of the world’s rich’s that exceeds his pay which was bound to spark and arouse suspicions.

Aleman has pursued the career of being a Lawyer before presidency and that alone should tell you that his Oath and promise to the law, the country, should have been stronger than ever. We may give credit to his personal success as a lawyer, then running for Mayor of Nicaragua and then President and then one of the most corrupt politicians ever! Quite an outstanding and successful career development in politics and business too and the perfect way to be sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment for corruption by the embezzlement of more than $100 Million from Nicaragua’s Treasury.

8. Pavlo Lazarenko

Former Prime minister of Ukraine

The common pattern amongst each of these corrupt organisations or individuals is that each one sets a trend that goes higher than the last corrupted individual. It’s strangely almost like a competition of who can steal the most amount of money or be the nations most corrupted politicians. It is rather amazing and stupid as well, what some individuals would to do gain a place in the history of the world but for the wrong reasons.

7. Alberto Fujimori

Former President of Peru

A funny name this man has, but a clever mindset, cleverer than all his other corrupt pals thus far as the amount estimated in his corruption ranking value is rather staggering. Corrupt Presidents among the most corrupt politicians, isn’t an uncommon thing in this case ,it’s just that some of them are a little bit more intelligent in their corruption parades that they were able to milk more out of the state, than the rest before they’ve been brought to legal justice. Alberto Fujimori is of an Asian descent which primarily means disciplined, sharp witted, and intelligent as well as mentally sharp since they have that Asian blood which is known to the world for their attention to detail type of style in everything they say and do which ensures order and precision in most cases.

In the Case of Alberto Fujimori however and his corruption In Presidency has gotten over his ‘head’ of the Nation accolade. It doesn’t mean that if a man is dressed with sharp suits, speaks in polite speech mannerisms and carries himself out with professionalism in the public eye, that he won’t be capable of corruption to some hectic degrees, kidnapping and murder As well as guilty by court of law in his act of ordering death squad Military men to do the dirty work of kidnappings and killings during his presidency and with an estimated fraud value of $600 Million stolen from the state.

6. Jean-Claude Duvalier

Former President of Haiti

We all know that action star, Jean – Claude Van Damme has been the bad boy dominating the Action Genre of Hollywood since the 80’s and there was only one of him. Jean – Claude Duvalier on the other hand, obviously tried to imitate this actor in reality due to his first name being the same, and very humorously couldn’t come close it seems. Some people in power have seem to be waving the flag of a common trend that having “President” title simply means “I own everything and everybody In a country” and this is where abuse of power gets to best of their morality and beliefs and basically everything else changes once somebody comes into full power and control, it wouldn’t be very long until their power is taken to head where everything is now swindled by their intimidating and authority figure finger. Duvalier is one of the most corrupt politicians ever.

5. Sani Abacha

Former President of Nigeria

Nigeria as it stands to the world is automatically classed as a war torn country and quite frankly, who could blame the world for thinking so lowly of them when civil war seems to be so popular, the locals are somewhat getting better at it. War torn countries, require a leader that can turn an entire nation around, command in operations of war and actually win at it to protect the name and people of a country. Not every leader appointed and elected into Presidency or parliament or a high profiled position in a country sees for the actual needs of the people and meets demands of what needs to be changed urgently for the better of those protesting legally for it.

There will always be a need of self-improvement , personal greed while the rest will suffer dearly and that ultimately becomes the major downfall of every country thereafter where as bad as things are as it is, will become worse after a man so called ‘leader’ like Sani Achaba who is often regarded as one of the most corrupt politicians, could steal around $4 Billion into personal private accounts as well as Jewelry to the value that could supply a 100 years salary to the average Nigerian. Which was ‘attempted’ to be stolen from his residence by robbers that police have discovered and ironically though after the immediate shock of his death, his wife tried to flee with 4 suitcases of stolen money also. This is where hilariously, the robber gets robbed and that too, by his own wife. Its more of a comical act of fraudulence rather than a clever one. Mr. Achaba earns himself the title of one of the funniest corrupt politicians that the world has seen.

4. Slobodan Milosevic

Former President of Yugoslavia

In terms of fraud, one could ask oneself, what is the limit that somebody could reach in terms of the amount of money they could take from the country without being caught and for how long can they pull this off? There must be a certain genius behind this as it isn’t as easy as mugging a homeless man on the street of his last Penny to steal from something as large as an entire Country. Mr. Milosevic however has gone beyond just money fraud in this case and has been convicted according to BBC’s report of some high profiled killings and being the head behind assassination attacks, killing of witnesses or people who were brave enough to bring him to justice. Plus he’s also one of the most corrupt politicians on our planet.

Power driven men, know no extremes in terms of where they Power boundaries are when in office or in Presidency as they sincerely believe that they control and own everything that the country has, including the people, where human rights and constitutions are just pieces of paper with fancy writing on it since none of these seem to genuinely matter when they are committing fraudulent acts themselves and in this case, not in small petty numbers as this one really reached the extreme fraud bars. $100 Billion shelled out to compensate for campaign bombings that took place and causing collateral damage to this estimated worth and figure is no joke and certainly not a child’s game. Presidents are supposed to bring about peace in their countries and not inflict war with others. All this by the handy work of one man and his accomplices, Slobodan Milosevic who even notoriously earned himself a Street named after him.

3. Mobutu Sese Seko

Former President of Zaire

From this point on, the story of fraudulent acts become interlinked with each below this rank, as it seems that the next 2 rankings below Mobutu Sese Seko has been interlinked and confirmed as accomplishes that were involved in what is estimated to be a $50 Billion 3 Man scorn from all 3 of the Countries that these men represent such as: Zaire, Philippines and Indonesia. This is actually the sum equal to the yearly budget of the West. How the 3 men managed to pull this off is somewhat of a mystery, let the other two remain a mystery for now. Mobutu Sese Seko is ranked among the most corrupt politicians in the world and part of the 3 man tag team cross country in their reign of ‘joint -venture’ power-man fraudcommitments and dedication, has personally been reported to embezzle an estimated amount of around 12 Billion by himself. These figures certainly don’t lie and isn’t exaggerated either.

2. Ferdinand Marcos

Former President of the Philippines

As part of the three Musketeers and why we call them ‘Marketeers’ is due to their ability to put on a reputable and accountable appearance to their public of being respectable Leaders of the country until that mask comes out and the Robbers are revealed, its not inappropriate to call them “masked robbers” either. And with this Mask they sure did create a Phantom of their very own Opera (dramatic play). Yes! You’ve guessed it. Ferdinand Marcos (Former President of the Philippines) is Mystery man 2 in the 3 man joint venture of billions to be estimated amongst each other with regards to their fraudulent acts. It seems as though the Philippines, sure knows how to elect their Presidents, only to shoot themselves in the foot, not once but on two very unwise choices of Presidents.

Making the same mistake twice is considered as insanity, but then again, who are they to know whose going to rob the entire nation until it happens. Ferdinand Marcos has been reported to have stolen $5 – 10 Billion of his own as well during the years 1972 – 1986 In his time of Presidency. He came second in our list of most corrupt politicians in the planet.

1. Mohamed Suharto

Former President of Indonesia

Mystery Man that Ranks number 1 on the list of the most corrupt politicians in the world is Mohamed Suharto seeing as because his managed to top the cake with a shiny looking cherry of being able to take more than his joint venture pals (Mobutu & Ferdinand), ‘M & F’. The value that he is worth in the estimated value of notorious Presidential Fraud, it actually deserves a Campaign or Game show of its own where the winner of who can embezzle the most out of a country wins and Mohamed Suharto seemed to have won it big during his 30 Year Presidential duration of Office in the Country’s highest seat.

During this time of Presidency, it would have obviously given Mr. Suharto more than enough time to take a few billions for himself and to absolutely no surprise did he surpass the fraudulent amount of the rest reaching a staggering figure of $15 – $35 Billion in stone cold hard assets and Swiss accounts that were ‘perfectly legal’ in terms of its existence, but yet again, where money talks, the corrupt ears will listen very closely and so it has been pulled off. What makes Mohamed Suharto Thee most corrupt politician of the world isn’t just because of his fraudulent rank rate being the highest in personal embezzlement but due to managing to put up a decent, honest and upstanding Leader of the nation for 30 years. A man that long in Presidency can be accused even without evidence for fabricating votes every now and then or banking hard on Campaigns to make the greatest impression every year to the vulnerable people who were just forced to believe it.

10 Most Corrupt Politicians of The World

  1. Mohamed Suharto (Former President of Indonesia)
  2.  Ferdinand Marcos (Former President of the Philippines)
  3. Mobutu Sese Seko (Former President of Zaire)
  4. Slobodan Milosevic (Former President of Yugoslavia)
  5. Sani Abacha (Former President of Nigeria)
  6. Jean-Claude Duvalier (Former President of Haiti)
  7. Alberto Fujimori (Former President of Peru)
  8. Pavlo Lazarenko (Former Prime minister of Ukraine)
  9. Arnoldo Aleman (Former President of Nicaragua)
  10. Joseph Estrada (Former President of the Philippines)