Donald Trump speaks at Edison New Jersey Hindu Indian-American rally for “Humanity United Against Terror” – October 15, 2016 (Shutterstock)
By Charu Sudan Kasturi, Nick Dall and Matthew Blackman, Ozy
Flamboyant French ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy always loved “to be at the center of the action,” former U.S. President Barack Obama wrote in his memoir A Promised Land. For once, Sarkozy won’t be happy to find himself in the spotlight, after a court sentenced him to jail on Monday for trying to bribe a judge in 2014. While Sarkozy will appeal the ruling and can remain free in the meantime — though he will return to court this month on separate charges of evading campaign finance laws — the verdict is a jolt to those leaders who think they’re above the law. Today’s Daily Dose explores how corruption charges are catching up with multiple world leaders even as the COVID-19 pandemic has opened up fresh opportunities to cheat taxpayers. Read about the deep ties between war and corruption, meet unheralded heroes and understand why this battle is as old as civilization itself — and even God isn’t immune.
Who’s next after Sarkozy?
1. Donald Trump
The former U.S. president was acquitted by a divided Senate after a second impeachment last month on charges that he instigated the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6. But New York prosecutors are still investigating allegations of financial fraud by Trump, and Georgia prosecutors are exploring whether he broke the law by trying to strong-arm local officials into reversing the election results, as Trump no longer enjoys the de facto immunity that came with the presidency. At a time when Trump has indicated he’s open to running again in 2024, the outcome of the corruption probe could determine his political future.
2. Benjamin Netanyahu
They call him Mr. Teflon. For years, no political scandal has seriously damaged the career of Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. But now, as he looks to retain power in a fourth national election in less than two years, Bibi, as Netanyahu is called, faces growing pressure to resign over allegations of corruption that have refused to go away. The charges range from accepting cigars and Champagne from businessmen in exchange for favors to helping media houses that showered him with positive coverage. Now he’s getting bad press for it.
3. Jacob Zuma
The controversial former South African president has long faced allegations of corruption during his time in office. Now, he finally faces a trial that’ll start in May, more than 16 years after first being implicated. Zuma has refused to cooperate with the probe into the allegations against him, and his defiance is part of a larger battle over the future direction of the nation and its ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC). Current President Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to crush corruption and has taken on Zuma’s ally and ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, who is widely seen as corrupt. Zuma’s political survival skills are legendary. But has his luck finally run out?
4. Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva
A former trade union leader, Lula is one of two former Brazilian presidents who’ve spent time in jail after corruption convictions in Latin America’s most expansive scam, the Car Wash scandal. But while the conviction meant he couldn’t contest the 2018 presidential elections, Lula remains wildly popular for his social welfare programs like the Bolsa Família cash transfers. And current President Jair Bolsonaro — arguably the biggest political beneficiary of the Car Wash probe — is now feeling the heat too. He shut down the investigation in February amid persistent allegations of graft against his own son.
5. Park Geun-hye
It was corruption at the highest levels possible. South Korea’s former president accepted a bribe from the heir apparent of the country’s largest firm, Samsung. Now they’re both in prison, Park for 22 years and Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong for 2 ½ years. But current President Moon Jae-in — who has promised to stamp out corruption — is now under political pressure to fire his top prosecutor after the prosecutor turned his attention to Moon’s own justice ministers.
6. Najib Razak
The former Malaysian prime minister didn’t worry about middlemen. He was sentenced last year to 12 years in jail for transferring $10 million from a state wealth fund directly to his personal bank account. The so-called 1MDB scam is the biggest to have rocked the Southeast Asian nation.