By Diana Jean Schemo
As the United Nations’ General Assembly opens in New York, visiting dignitaries from impoverished nations and those struggling with austerity measures are back in town. They’re the ones packing New York’s top hotels, shopping in the most expensive boutiques, eating at the finest restaurants. How can they afford this, when more than half their citizens get by on less than $2 a day?
Call to action!
Announcing KleptoWatch 2012: Name that Shame, a photo contest to promote government accountability during General Assembly week.
100Reporters is asking New Yorkers and visitors to the city to charge up their cellphones and open their eyes. We’re seeking pictures of foreign dignitaries cruising high-end restaurants and shops, or tooling around in cars worth more than their countrymen can hope to earn in a lifetime, between September 24 and October 1, 2012. We’ve posted pictures of a few to watch out for, to help get you started. The winning photo gets $250. Second Prize is $100, and Honorable Mention takes home $50.
Contributors should email pix and videos to kleptowatch@100R.org, which will post them on its site, https://100R.org, and on the 100R Facebook page. (Videos can also be uploaded to YouTube, using the tag #kleptowatch, but provide the link on your entry form.) Make sure to note the date, time, place and if possible, the identity of the subject, along with your own name and any other relevant details. (In the absence of subject’s identity, we will need the country that he/she represents.) If you can’t take a picture, tweet a sighting, using the hashtag #kleptowatch. Full contest rules are here.
Every year, corrupt leaders and their cronies siphon more than $900 billion from the national economies of developing nations, according to the nonprofit Global Financial Integrity. That money could be used to build much-needed roads, schools, water treatment plants and hospitals.
Some other examples:
During the UN General Assembly last year, for example:
- Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, stayed in the presidential suite at the Mandarin Oriental, for which his government paid $16,000 a night. Kagame represents one of the poorest countries on the planet, with 83 percent of Rwandans living on less than $2 a day
- Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, also stayed at the Mandarin Oriental. She had stopped in Paris first, visiting the swanky Georges V hotel with her daughter and stocking up on 20 pairs of Christian Louboutin shoes
- The Moroccan foreign minister was squired around town in a sleek Bentley. In Rabat, citizens fired up by the Arab Spring grew outraged upon learning that the Minister of Youth and Sports had a government-issued Audi.
Although many businesses in New York are happy for the jolt to the local economy that the visiting dignitaries bring, they may not realize that the diplomatic lush life comes at a cost. Hotel managers have described officials arriving for the week with briefcases laden with cash.
Over the last year, law enforcement agencies around the world have begun to investigate excessive spending by foreign government officials and, in extreme cases, moved to seize ill-gotten gains. French prosecutors and the U.S. Justice Department are going after the assets of Teodorin Obiang, the playboy son of Equatorial Guinea’s president. Obiang fils somehow amassed a fleet of super-expensive cars that include two Bugatti Veyrons, a Maserati, a Porsche and two Ferraris Bugattis, a $30 million mansion in Malibu and a $180 million mansion on Paris’s super-chic Avenue Foch. His official government salary? Less than $100,000.
“Even if you’ve never known poverty, you know honest public servants usually can’t spend like millionaires,” said Schemo. “So if you see them splurging at five-star hotels or heading to their limos with shopping bags in tow, take their pictures and win a prize. We’ll do the rest.”
Winners will be announced Friday, October 5, on the 100Reporters Facebook page.
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