Politics is the perfect cover for those seeking to line their pockets: Find a populist message to get yourself elected and then bend the rules to send government business to friends and family, not forgetting to take a cut for yourself along the way. And then there’s lots of means to hide your ill-gotten gains behind shell companies, evade taxes and squirrel away your loot in secret offshore bank accounts.

Here are some kleptocrats who have perfected the art of personal enrichment, and a look at other politicians in countries so plagued by corruption or who are so adept at exploiting special loopholes designed to benefit the rich that’s it’s getting harder and harder to tell these days who’s clean and who’s not.

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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 have included the late Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Libya’s former strongman Muammar Gaddafi. Since returning to power in a disputed 2006 election, Ortega has turned thuggery into a high art form by unleashing mobs on his opposition and consolidating his power through patronage. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in its region, with 30 percent of people living below the poverty line, and it has wide income disparities. 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 they 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.


Teodoro Obiang

The 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. He has created the perfect kleptocracy. His son, Teodorin, built a mammoth $700 million luxury yacht, whose cost is six times more than the country spends on health care and education combined. This, in addition to a fleet of luxury cars and a $30 million estate in Malibu, which he agreed to sell in 2015 to settle U.S. charges of looting his country to the tune of $325 million to finance his extravagant lifestyle.  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.


Robert Mugabe

Thanks to Robert Mugabe, among the longest-standing leaders in Africa, Zimbabwe is ranked as one of the most corrupt countries by Transparency International.  Cronies of the 92-year-old leader pull down huge ministerial salaries and use their posts to richly feather their nests. When the mines minister allegedly demanded a $10 million bribe for one mining venture, Mugabe turned a blind eye — hardly a surprise for a president who spends $50 million a year on travel and has a fancy house in the richest district of Hong Kong. Such blatant self-dealing is starting to catch up with them. Protesters are hitting the streets and the opposition party is demanding an explanation for what has happened to $15 billion in diamond revenues. The socialist liberation leader has only brought violence and poverty to a country that was once seen as the breadbasket of Africa.


Joseph Kabila

Since taking office as president in 2001 following the assassination 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 and it’s the region’s largest copper producer. 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, the DRC remains one of the poorest countries on earth, and the eastern region is ravaged by violence in the longest running conflict that few have ever heard of. Citizens struggle with incomes that average $200 a year. Only two other countries have lower per capita income. Kabila’s arrest in May of opposition leader Moise Katumbi, hours after he announced his candidacy for president in elections scheduled for later this year, has stoked fears the leader is bent on remaining in power.


Nursultan Nazarbayev

Since 1991 and the fall of the Soviet Union, Nursultan Nazarbayev has been Kazakhstan’s only president. In April 2015, he was elected to another five-year term, receiving nearly 98 percent of the vote. He has become a de facto “president for life” for the oil-rich Central Asian country with immunity from prosecution and an extraordinary grip on the nation’s politics. 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. But they must have something to hide. The Panama Papers leak (see below) of offshore companies showed Nazarbayev relatives secretly stashing money away in the tax haven.


Najib Razak

It’s strange how nearly $3.5 billion turned up in the personal bank account of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. The U.S. Justice Department says the money originated in a state-funded development fund, which missed payments to lenders in early 2015. The shortfall drew attention to 1Malaysia Development Bhd, the investment fund formed by Najib to turn Kuala Lumpur into a financial hub, and has spiraled into an ever growing scandal centered on Najib with the amount of money in question increasing over time. Najib has consistently denied doing anything wrong but the U.S. seems to think otherwise. Its anti-corruption unit has moved to seize around $1 billion in assets from Najib, mainly luxury properties and a private jet — its biggest asset seizure ever. The U.S. action was a twist considering that Malaysia’s attorney general had cleared Najib of wrongdoing in January.  Meanwhile, Najib blames the leader of the opposition, former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, of political sabotage saying he is working “hand in glove” with the United States to topple a democratically elected leader — charges that Mahathir has denied.


Juan Orlando Hernández

Torch-wielding citizens took to the streets in 2015, protesting corruption among government high-ups, including President Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras. While the street protests are new, corruption sadly is all too common in Central America — just look at Guatemala, whose president and vice president were arrested, ousted, and replaced in 2015 following a corruption scandal of their own.  But in Honduras, Hernández has held onto power despite accusations of inflated healthcare contracts in an audacious scheme that left patients dying while money allegedly was used to fund Hernández’s reelection. While no charges have been filed against Hernández or his fellows, officials from the Social Security Institute–and a girlfriend–have been nabbed throughout South America, having fled the nation. To appease the people, Hernández settled on an Organization of American States-led investigation into the alleged embezzlement of $350 million, arguing that impunity will become a thing of the past. But citizens won’t believe him before they see big names held to account. OAS has a less than stellar reputation in the country after it failed to strongly defend Honduran democracy in a 2009 coup. As for Hernández, his new hand-picked judges on the Supreme Court have conveniently changed the re-election laws, clearing the way for him to make another run for the presidency.


Reckless corruption marked the rule of former President Viktor Yanukovich, contributing to his downfall in 2014 when his opulent estate complete with golf course, hunting grounds and zoo were opened to public view. Yanukovich escaped to Russia while the billions of dollars robbed from state coffers each year by him and his cronies had left the country’s army ill-equipped to counter Russia’s invasion of Crimea weeks after the president’s ouster. Two years later, Ukraine remains in political turmoil, its judiciary rotten and despite shocking revelations has yet to lock up any corrupt officials. Forbes meanwhile just happens to list its current president Petro Poroshenko as the richest leader in Eastern Europe who has opened a secret offshore company.


“If we don’t fight corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria” is the dictum emblazoned upon the walls of the Nigeria Police Force headquarters in a country where looting by the elite is akin to a national sport. These words helped propel President Muhammed Buhari to power last year. He ousted Corruption All-Stars favorite Goodluck Jonathan, one of whose major achievements was to fire the central bank chief for daring to reveal that $20 billion in state oil revenues had gone missing. But a year into the anti-corruption campaign, Buhari’s reputation is getting a little tarnished. Top politicians in his party are scrambling to explain why an extra $53 million was fraudulently tacked onto the federal budget. It’s a sorry reminder for the 70 percent of Nigerians struggling to survive on less than $2 a day that cleansing a country so steeped in corruption will take far more than a few slogans. Nigeria certainly deserves a place on the All Stars list; let’s see about Buhari.


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When Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was suspended in May for allegedly manipulating government accounts during her 2014 reelection campaign, she said the practice was commonplace among previous presidents, and she claimed the whole thing was politically motivated. It was after all her political opponents, some of whom were under investigation themselves, who had made the accusations. But Rousseff has seen her fair share of scandals. Twenty-five people, including top members of her party with close ties to her mentor, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, were convicted in 2012 of illegally using public funds back in 2005, and lately Petrobras, the state oil company which she chaired from 2003 to 2010, has been engulfed in a huge corruption investigation.

Known as Operation Car Wash, the probe has revealed that Petrobras took regular kickbacks from construction companies and even admitted to spending $1.7 billion on bribes last year alone, all of which lined the pockets of its top officials and politicians in a scheme that happened under Lula and Rousseff’s watch. No solid evidence has been presented against the pair, but as the pincers were closing upon Lula, his star pupil tried to move him out of harm’s way by appointing him her chief of staff, effectively protecting him from prosecution. It caused a political uproar and stoked support for her impeachment.

Interim President Michel Temer has promised not to interfere with the investigation, but it might be somewhat naive to believe him. Plea bargain witnesses are calling Temer the “godfather” of the corrupt system. Already, two of his cabinet members have been caught trying to cover it up, and he himself faces charges he asked for illegal campaign contributions in 2012, which he of course denies. It’s a mess.


Most of us agree that paying taxes are unpleasant, but few of us will ever make enough money to walk in the footsteps of the following multi-millionaires, who went to great lengths to avoid taxes or hide their wealth. Those that do, however, turn to tax havens–like Panama.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with being a tax haven, or stashing your treasure in one. In fact, the United States is quickly becoming a favorite haven among the world’s wealthy. But if you’re caught funneling cash overseas, especially as a public figure, expect your actions to be considered suspicious. Companies set up in tax havens are anonymous, conveniently hiding where the money that’s tucked away came from. If you’re a world leader lining your pockets by engaging in corruption and you need somewhere to bury the evidence, a tax haven like Panama is ideal. Thanks to the Panama Papers leak, led by the International Consortium for Investigative Journalism, some of those names and shady practices have seen the light of day. These are some of the headliners:

Russia’s Vladimir Putin

Controversy surrounding President Vladimir Putin always seems to take a familiar shape: A lurking suspicion about his activities is counterbalanced by plausible deniability, the absence of hard fact and the blaming of Western powers. Though Putin himself wasn’t named in the papers, a very close friend of his, cellist Sergei Roldugin, was listed as the owner of two offshore companies. One was involved in a particularly shady deal where a $6 million loan was later written off for $1. Some of this money has been traced back to loans from state banks and linked to Putin through a ski resort, where one of his daughters was married. Roldugin has yet to explain how he as a musician rather than a businessman holds a number of stakes in Russian companies, including Bank Rossiya, described as Putin’s “crony bank” and sanctioned by the U.S. The bank also just happens to be run by Yuri Kovalchuk, whom the U.S. alleges is Putin’s personal banker. There are others close to Putin who hold offshore accounts, spiking suspicion that they may exist for the same purpose suspected for Roldugin’s offshores. Amid the controversy, Putin has said that the information revealed in the leaks was all true, but he has vehemently denied “any element of corruption”. To cap it all off, he presented the ordeal as a Western plot to smear his name. It has certainly called into question exactly how much personal wealth the man has amassed–and what lengths he might go through to make sure no one can answer that very question.

Iceland’s Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson 

Of all of the Panama Paper’s victims, none fell faster than the former Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson–and he didn’t even do anything illegal. Iceland, which saw its economy tank in the 2008 recession, had zero tolerance for a leader who, the day before such disclosures would be required by law, conveniently sold his shares in an offshore company founded in 2007 to hold and invest his now-wife’s inheritance for $1. But then, after the 2008 market crash caused the company to lose millions, it claimed more than $4 million from Iceland banks, a deal Gunnlaugsson, a