Politics and shopping make for a pleasant getaway for heads of state with bulging wallets and an eye for bling. Keep your eyes peeled for some of these Corruption All-Stars and their entourages as they grace New York City–from the U.N. itself to, say, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue or Harry Winston, the jeweler. They are a small sample of the folks Kleptowatch is seeking.
Select your kleptocrat and follow him or her — and members of their families — as they help pump new life into the economy of New York. Or just snap a picture if you happen upon a visiting dignitary stocking up on the pleasures money can buy. No store is too fancy, no restaurant too expensive for this rapacious group and their boundless appetite for excess.
See this article for tips on tagging photos and tweets.
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- Though Daniel Ortega rose to prominence by leading a popular workers’ revolt against the entrenched dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979, he has had little use for democracy. His selected political allies include Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Cuba’s Raul Castro and Libya’s ousted strongman Muammar Gaddafi, whom he recently called to offer support. Since returning to power in a disputed 2006 election, Mr. Ortega has turned thuggery into a high art form by unleashing mobs on his opposition. Nicaragua is the poorest country in its region, with a per capita income of $2600 a year and with nearly 80 percent of the country living on less than $2 a day. Why is no one surprised? When Mr. Ortega was booted from office in 1990 after his first time as president, he and his Sandinista cronies looted the country to the tune of $700 million, by some estimates. They stole from the central bank, and seized homes and businesses, in a scandal dubbed “La Pinata,” After the children’s game where kids whack papier-mâché animals to get the goodies inside.
- Even before she was elected president of Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner carried the haze of corruption. In the most famous case, an emissary from Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, was discovered at the Buenos Aires airport carrying a briefcase stuffed with $800,000 in cash, destined, he later told the FBI, to support Kirchner’s presidential bid. Kirchner denied the allegation. Within Argentina, many question the huge fortune Kirchner and her late husband Nestor amassed since taking public office. Her declared personal wealth stands at $13.8 million, up from $500,000 when the couple first entered national politics. Kirchner cites income from real estate and hotels the couple had purchased to explain the 2,600 percent return on the couple’s investment purse. Corruption watchers complain that her government has neutered government oversight, giving auditing posts to cronies compromised by conflicts of interest. The result: corruption cases take an average of 14 years to work through the system, according to the non-profit Center for the Study and Prevention of Economic Crimes, and only 15 in 750 cases have led to convictions.
- Teodoro Obiang, president of Equatorial Guinea, has a genius for insuring that none of his country’s vast oil wealth goes to help its impoverished people, over 60 percent of whom live on less than $1 a day. His son, Teodorin, is building a mammoth $380 million luxury yacht, whose cost is three times more than the country spends on health care and education combined. This, in addition to a fleet of luxury cars and a $35 million estate in Malibu. Asked once how he managed to spend so outrageously on a government salary, the despot’s son and presumed successor said in a sworn affidavit that in Equatorial Guinea, government ministers can partner with companies that win government contracts. As a result, he wrote, “a cabinet minister ends up with a sizable part of the contract price in his bank account.
- Thanks to Robert Mugabe, among the longest-standing leaders in Africa, Zimbabwe is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries by Transparency International. Citing the country’s unbridled corruption, the United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions against economic trade with the country, and barred Mugabe and his top officials from coming to Europe and the U.S. That, however, has not stopped Mugabe from spending his own country’s minimal resources for himself and his cronies: Mugabe is on track to spend nearly $50 million on foreign travel this year. He has a fancy house in the richest district of Hong Kong. His heavy-handed tactics have only brought violence and poverty to a country that was once seen as the breadbasket of Africa.
- Goodluck Jonathan took over one of the world’s most corrupt countries in May 2010 on the death of its president, and was re-elected last April. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country — with appalling living conditions. Education, health and health care are poor. Only about half the population has access to clean water and life expectancy averages 47 years. Polio is still a problem, even though it has been eradicated everywhere else in Africa, along with cholera, malaria and HIV/AIDS. In 2006, anti-corruption officials investigated Mr. Jonathan’s wife, Patience, over allegations she tried to launder $13.5 million. She has never been convicted of any wrongdoing, however. Oil-rich Nigeria is home to networks of organized crime and has suffered from drug trafficking and piracy.
DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
- Since taking office as president in 2001 following the assasination of his father Laurent, Joseph Kabila is seen as doing little to combat corruption and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The country is resource rich: Diamonds, cobalt and rare minerals used in electronics are all found in abundance in the DR Congo. Yet the country has a long history of corruption. Laurent Kabila’s predecessor, Mobutu Sese Seko, allegedly walked away with $4 billion and Swiss courts found that a statute of limitations ran out on collecting some of that bounty. Meanwhile, DR Congo remains one of the poorest countries on earth. Its citizens struggle with incomes that average $200 a year. Only two other countries have lower per capita income.
- Since 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union, Nursultan Nazarbayev has been Kazakhstan’s only president. Last April, he was elected to another five year term, receiving nearly 96 percent of the vote. The Central Asian nation — the world’s largest landlocked country — is dominated by Mr. Nazarbayev, who has become a de-facto “president for life” with immunity from prosecution and an extraordinary grip on the nation’s politics. Transparency International rates Kazakhstan at the level of “rampant corruption.” The Nazarbayev family was investigated by Western governments over money laundering, bribery and assassinations, although the U.S. Justice Department closed the case in 2010.