David Rothkopf

International Sleazestakes: The FP Scandalpalooza

It’s June, which means it’s time for FP‘s 50th annual International sleazestakes, the definitive ranking of the most odious cases of political corruption and scandals worldwide….and the most entertaining ones. This ranking is the one used by prosecutors, tabloid editors and the crooks themselves to know who is up (to no good usually) and who ...


It’s June, which means it’s time for FP‘s 50th annual International sleazestakes, the definitive ranking of the most odious cases of political corruption and scandals worldwide….and the most entertaining ones. This ranking is the one used by prosecutors, tabloid editors and the crooks themselves to know who is up (to no good usually) and who is down (to their last appeal). In fact in some places (Equatorial Guinea, Illinois) it is used as a kind of handbook for public officials.

Ok. That’s not true. We’ve never done this before. But when you write about the lying cheating dirt bags who have made politics even less respectable than investment banking and the priesthood, it rubs off on you.  Nonetheless, every word that follows is based on absolutely unimpeachable allegations even if the same cannot be said of the politicians in question.

So here goes, 10 world class sleazebags in 10 categories of sleaziness. 

  1. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (Please Don’t Make Me Visualize This Division)

From the country that gave us Caligula comes a scandal that makes us wish that there was a way to pull an Oedipus and gouge out our mind’s eye. (What, you think I meant the other oedipal stuff? Gross. There are standards of taste, even in this blog.) Please don’t make us imagine the 72 year old media-baron-turned-Godfather-of-Italian-politics (which is quite a distinction when you think about it) with the 18 year old lingerie model that Berlusconi’s wife alleges he had a dalliance with. Fortunately, recently Berlusconi got his country’s privacy commission to bloc the release of pictures of him at a party in Sardinia with the girl, then age, 17. And, to get back at his wife for calling him out on his alleged cradle-robbing, friends of the PM are now circulating stories that Berlusconi’s wife had taken a special interest in her security detail. Ah, Italia…the dolce vita never ends.

  1. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo (Perfect Scandal Division)

Even the Italians couldn’t come up with a scandal as delicious as this one in tiny Paraguay, known for its mountains and its unusually large number of schnitzel restaurants and goose stepping senior citizens. Here we have the President of the country, a former bishop, now being the subject of not one, not two, but three separate paternity claims. Lugo is clearly a man who may not have been true to his vows, but who is making up with it by literally trying to become the father of his country.

  1. The U.K. Parliament (Small Time Venality Division)

This weekend our favorite black hole of charisma, Gordon Brown, proposed constitutional reforms to help bring an end to one of Britain’s biggest and yet most piddling political scandals in years. No sex here. No diddling young boys. No Profumo spy scandal. No, this case…which has already got 12 members of parliament from three political parties already announcing they will not seek reelection…is about padding their official expense accounts with claims running from the costs of a home swimming people to an eight dollar donation to a church. Still, the scandal has accelerated the speed with which Gordo’s career is circling the drain and it has claimed the Speaker of the House of Commons. Still, I’m not sure if Brown’s suggestion that the country’s constitution be altered is the answer…given the British history of political scandals, perhaps he ought to be focused more on the constitution of British politicos.

  1. Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom (Homicide Division)

We’ve written about him before thanks to the fact that the scandal surrounding a murdered lawyer’s video accusation from the grave has threatened the stability of Colom’s government. But the scandal only gets more politically fraught even without much more clarity on whether the lawyer’s claims were true. While Colom spent yesterday touring Mayan ruins with Taiwan’s president, labor unions backing the leftist leader have started to push their case that the whole scandal was cooked up by Guatemala’s business elites to undermine the leftwing president. Bad as the scandal is, I can’t quite get my brain past the oxymoronic notion of Guatemalan business elites.

  1. South African President Jacob Zuma and, Special Mention, the Japanese Media (Cover Up Division)

A scandal without a cover up would be like an aging Hollywood star without plastic surgery…its often the effort to put a better face on things ends up doing the really upsetting disfiguring. So in this category we salute incoming South African President Jacob Zuma who nobody argues is a model citizen but who nonetheless managed to shrug off accusations of every manner of crime and buzz about his polygamy to rise to that nation’s highest office where, Wednesday, he will deliver its state of the nation address. But because you can’t do a good scandal without the cooperation of the press, we also want to tip our hats to the Japanese media who were cited in an article in the New York Times last week for their complete willingness to be the tools of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in funneling accusations against opposition leader Ichiro Ozawa…thus reminding us that the best friend of any scandal monger are the tools in the press who will print first and ask questions later.

  1. Former Iraqi Trade Minister Abdul Falah Al-Sudani (Who Says We Didn’t Bring U.S.-Style Democracy to Iraq Division?)

It’s gotta make George Bush proud. In a page right out of American democracy (New Jersey, Louisiana or Illinois-style), yesterday, the former Iraqi Trade Minister tried to slip out of the country as an investigation centering on the disappearance of $39 million dollars, massive shipments of food  and that old favorite, obstruction of justice, closed in on him. He was foiled when the Iraqi police got the plane to Dubai he was on to turn around and return to Baghdad where Al-Sudani was taken directly to the slammer.  It’s working, people, it’s working! We can make the Middle East look like us.

  1. Tie: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the Polls of Surat Thani Thailand (Vote Buying Division)

Buying votes is the meat and potatoes of political corruption (as we shall soon see.) And so we have to honor those who have shown the most creativity in this regard. In Thailand, the brother of the Deputy Prime Minister and a colleague are accused of handing out towels printed with slogans as an inducement to elderly voters to cast their ballots for them. That’s a novel twist. But the prize in this category goes to our old friend Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has been attacked by his opponents for trying to buy votes through the use of shipments of potatoes to districts he wants to carry. This in turn has produced the best political chant of the year, crowds of anti-Mahmoud Iranians rolling out that old national trope, the little black dress of Iranian politics, with their call for “Death to Potatoes, Death to Potatoes!” 

  1. Senator Roland Burris (Shameless Moron Division)

It is no small thing to even have the possibility of becoming the least distinguished U.S. Senator ever.  But only months into his tenure (which will almost certainly only be measurable in months), Illinois Senator Roland Burris has managed to achieve nothing for the people of Illinois but further embarrassment. His streak of misstatements on his interaction with Governor Rod Blagoevich prior to his selection for the Senate rivals any of the acts of truth-twisting every achieved in that upper chamber of the U.S. Congress. And almost certainly when Burris is gone…which will be soon either through resignation or when he loses election when his temporary term is up (he is as electable as Dick Cheney in Nancy Pelosi’s district in San Francisco)…it is for these dubious achievements that he will be rightfully remember. 

  1. The Sucker, er, Sultan of Brunei (Tables Turned Division)

You gotta love it when a political leader becomes the victim of a scam. It’s a small victory for everyone.  But it is especially sweet when one of the world’s richest men, known for his own history of beauty-queen-sex-slave scandals, is suckered out of 20 billion rupiahs by a team of Indonesian crooks who had the sand to call up the Sultan’s adjutant and persuade him to send the money to fake bank accounts in order to help allegedly support political campaigns in Indonesia.  On one such call, one of them even pretended he was the President of Indonesia calling. The embarrassed sultan followed up the announcement with a trip to the current ASEAN Summit which is being held in Korea, a country where political scandal is a national tradition. (See final story below.)

  1. The Late South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun (Memorial Division)

Maybe Roh Moo-hyun took a bribe. In fact, it looks like he did. Why else, in the midst of an investigation, would he go out behind his house and jump off a cliff, killing himself? Still, the popular ex-president, was not an anomaly in a country that may be the next lifetime honoree for the International Sleazestakes Hall of Fame given the fact that two of its military presidents ended up in jail and two of the sons of its first elected presidents joined them there. In fact, as noted in a good LA Times retrospective about Roh, Koreans like to joke that when North and South are reunified, the South will handle the economy but given the South’s record on political matters, those will be left to their brother and sisters from north of the demilitarized zone. 

Additional nominees welcome…and being created by entrepreneurially minded political leaders worldwide every day.


 Twitter: @djrothkopf

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