Kleptocrats of the world unite


Now that I’m putting pieces of writing on the Internet, I’ve become a bit paranoid about the grammatical and lexical accuracy of my prose.  This is a medium accessed by hundreds of millions of folk around the globe, after all.  You don’t want to appear illiterate in front of that many people.   (Though admittedly, this blog appears to have attracted a readership of one so far – myself.)


One word I used in a recent entry was ‘kleptocracy’.  As soon as I posted the entry, I began to wonder if I really knew what the word meant and if I’d used it appropriately.  Thankfully, when I checked the Wikipedia article on kleptocracies, I discovered that I’d been right.  Wikipedia defines it as “a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population”.


Put a big tick in the ‘kleptocrat’ column next to Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s name, then.


Helpfully, the Wikipedia article also listed the world’s worst kleptocrats, based on research done in 2004 by the NGO Transparency International.  Here are the five most brazen offenders.


Suharto Indonesia 15 – 35 billion dollars
Ferdinand Marcos The Philippines 5 – 10 billion dollars
Mobutu Sese Seko Zaire 5 billion dollars
Sani Abacha Nigeria 2 – 5 billion dollars
Slobodan Milosevic Yugoslavia and Serbia 1 billion dollars


Only slightly further down this league table of avarice and infamy are Haiti’s Baby Doc Duvalier, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, Ukraine’s Pavlo Lazarenko, Nicaragua’s Arnoldo Aleman and the Philippines’ Joseph Estrada.  Those poor Philippines really got lumbered with them.


Bear in mind that this list was compiled in 2004.  The victims of the Arab Spring – Hosni Mubarak, Mr and Mrs Ben Ali and the ghastly Gaddafi clan – would surely have a good chance of qualifying for an updated one.  And there are plenty of people still in power whose kleptocratic excesses haven’t been calculated yet.  God knows how much of Zimbabwe’s wealth has disappeared into Robert Mugabe’s trousers during the last three decades.  And one shudders to imagine the revenue generated by the hard-pressed workers of North Korea’s factories and farms that’s ended up in the Kim family bank account in Macao.


Returning to Transparency International’s research in 2004, I did once share a building with one of the names listed.  In the mid-1990s, Alberto Fujimori – the son of Japanese immigrants to Peru and not yet regarded as the colossal embezzler and human-rights violator that he’s known as today – was on a tour of Japan.  He stopped off at the university where I was working then, Hokkai-Gakuen University in Sapporo, and gave a speech in the swanky conference centre a few floors above the floor containing my office in the main campus building.  I didn’t go to see Fujimori and his entourage when they arrived, but I remember getting a note slipped under my office door early that morning.  The note politely informed me that if I opened my window that day, I ran the risk of being shot by a police sniper.


Fujimori is currently four years into a 25-year prison sentence in Peru.  Meanwhile, I suspect his visit doesn’t get much of a mention in Hokkai-Gakuen University’s promotional literature these days.