By Diana Jean Schemo
Corruption is a subject of endless fascination and popular opprobrium, particularly in these tough economic times. According to a recent BBC survey of 26 countries, it is the most frequently discussed problem in the world.
Now, a tourism agency in Prague is drawing crowds with a new circuit of stops in the picturesque medieval city: a sleaze tour, visiting unfinished public works projects, government-financed boondoggles, the homes of corporate executives on dubious public tenders and other sites carrying the stink of corruption.
“Our target is to get Czech corruption on a UNESCO list of the world’s cultural heritage,” quipped Pavel Kotyza, a tour organizer. The popular tours are booked a week ahead, and the company is planning translations into English and German.
Sweep to Prague’s new attraction: corruption
An Italian court has cleared Italy’s flamboyant former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, of corruption charges related to an alleged bribes in the 1990s, saying the statute of limitations had run out just weeks before the verdict.
The case is one of several that engulfed Berlusconi, who stepped down last year as Italy’s longest serving postwar prime minister. The billionaire media mogul still faces three separate trials — one on charges of corruption, false accounting and tax fraud; another for having allegedly leaked information from a wiretap, and a third accusing him of having paid for sex with an underage prostitute, a Moroccan stripper also known as Ruby the Heart Stealer.
In Saturday’s trial, Berlusconi had been charged with bribing his British tax lawyer, David Mills, to give false evidence to protect his business interests at two trials in the 1990s. The court also dismissed the case against Mills, who was tried in absentia, citing the statute of limitations.
Berlusconi, who could have faced five years in prison, had denied any wrongdoing. On the eve of the verdict, he called himself the “most persecuted man in the entire solar system.”
Human rights and good government activists are urging the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Social Organization to turn back a prize financed by the West African nation of Equatorial Guinea, saying its notorious leader is merely using the prize to whitewash an image steeped in corruption.
UNESCO’s board is set to meet in Paris Monday, and is likely to take up the $300,000 prize, named for Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Obiang.
Obiang, who has siphoned untold millions of his country’s oil wealth for his personal use, has eagerly sought to win legitimacy by conferring and accepting prizes from international and nongovernmental organizations. Several months ago, he accepted an award from the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, a nonprofit organization with ties to a consulting company representing a number of African leaders. Obiang received the award on behalf of the Organization of African Unity, over the heated protests of human rights groups.
Obiang’s son, Teodorin, is at the center of an effort by international prosecutors to seize hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit assets. The country has vast oil reserves and a population of only 700,000 people, the vast majority of whom live in dire poverty.
Just two weeks ago, Obiang’s son, Teodorin, who is Equatorial Guinea’s envoy to UNESCO, tried to use his post to prevent French police from seizing assets from his $670 million mansion on Paris’ chic Avenue Foch.