- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 25, 2004

Former President Suharto of Indonesia topped a rogues’ gallery of the most corrupt political leaders of the past 20 years, according to a survey released yesterday by a leading anticorruption advocacy group.

According to London-based Transparency International, Suharto looted $15 billion to $35 billion from the state treasury during 21 years in office before being forced to step down in 1998, in a country where the per capita gross domestic product is $695.

“The abuse of political power for private gain deprives the most needy of vital public services, creating a level of despair that breeds conflict and violence,” said Peter Eigen, the group’s chairman, in a statement released yesterday. “Political corruption undermines the hopes for prosperity and stability of developing countries, and damages the global economy.”

Bush administration officials have placed anticorruption efforts at the center of an ambitious effort to revamp traditional U.S. aid programs in developing countries.

President Bush’s Millennium Challenge Account program is designed to reward with increased U.S. aid dollars countries that clean up political, legal and social institutions.

In the Transparency International rankings, former President Ferdinand Marcos, one of two Philippine politicians on the list, ranked second behind Suharto, having skimmed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion from the public from 1972 through 1986.

African leaders took the next two spots, with Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko stashing away about $5 billion from 1965 through 1997. The GDP of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo during his tenure was less than $100 per person. Nigerian President Sani Abacha came in fourth.

The Americas provided three names to the top 10 — led by Haiti’s Jean-Claude Duvalier, accused of looting $300 million to $800 million.

Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, in exile in Japan and under indictment at home, is accused of stealing $600 million during his presidency, which ended four years ago. And Nicaragua’s Arnoldo Aleman, who was tried for corruption, took about $100 million from 1997 until 2002.

Impeached Philippine President Joseph Estrada, a one-time movie star who led his country from 1998 to 2001, is suspected of stealing almost $80 million during his time in office, according to the survey.

Suharto today lives as a recluse, six years after he was forced from power. His daughter, funded by her family’s wealth, is active politically in Indonesia.

Marcos, Mobutu and Abacha are dead. Former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, fifth on the list with loot of $1 billion, is on trial before a United Nations tribunal in the Netherlands for his role in the ethnic clashes that rocked the Balkans in the 1990s.

Haiti’s Duvalier lives in exile in southern France. And Estrada is in police custody in the Philippines, awaiting trial on corruption charges.

Transparency International, founded 11 years ago, receives the bulk of its funding from government development agencies and private foundations, as well as from private corporate donations. The watchdog organization says it is establishing an endowment fund to increase its independence.

The new report does not place all the blame on corrupt leadership. It says some of the fault lies with the Western business practices in developing nations with few legal checks and heavy state involvement in private enterprise. To gain favor and win contracts, some Western companies encourage corruption in the developing world and flout their own governments’ antibribery laws by paying for special treatment.

Companies from Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria and Canada were rated the most willing to pay bribes and other illegal inducements in 2003, based on a survey of about 800 business experts in 15 developing countries.

“Bribe-paying is a crime against humanity, a fact made clear by the legacy of poverty and distrust left behind by corrupt officials,” said John Makumbe, a Transparency International official based in Africa.

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