Najib Razak not the only world leader to face court – here are eight politicians sentenced to jail for abusing their power
Members of the public don’t always think very highly of politicians, and that’s especially true when they are convicted criminals. These eight men, from all corners of the globe, misused their power and paid the price
Many world leaders have stepped out of public office and into prison. The reasons vary from corruption, to stealing state funds and embezzlement, to imprisoning and murdering political opponents. Some were ousted in coups, while others were denounced by a successor.
Former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, who appeared in court on Wednesday charged with corruption and breach of trust, could share their fate. If convicted of one or more of the charges, he faces up to 20 years in prison.
The following men are among the minor and major misusers of power, and have all been handed prison sentences after leaving office.
1. Arnoldo Alemán
Arnoldo Alemán was president of Nicaragua from January 1997 to January 2002.
Named the ninth most corrupt leader in recent history by Transparency International, in 2003 he was sentenced to 20 years for money laundering, embezzlement and corruption. He and his wife wrote off huge hotel bills to government credit cards, including US$68,500 on hotels and handicrafts in India, and US$25,955 for a honeymoon in Italy. He was estimated to have looted US$100 million in state funds. The average income of Nicaraguans is US$430 per year, according to the World Bank.
2. Reynaldo Bignone
Reynaldo Bignone was president of Argentina from July 1982 to December 1983.
Part of the Argentine military dictatorship, in 2010 he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the kidnap, torture and murder of 56 people opposing the government. In 2011 he was given life in prison for crimes against humanity.
In December of the same year, he was sentenced to 15 years’ jail for his part in a plan to steal babies from detainees and give them to friends of his regime. In May 2016, he got another 20 years for his part in Operation Condor, a CIA programme of political repression and state terror in Latin America. The charges involved the murder of 105 people including Bolivians, Uruguayans, Chileans and Paraguayans.
3. Jean-Bedel Bokassa
Jean-Bedel Bokassa was ruler of the Central African Republic from January 1966 until September 1979.
He served 10 years as president, including four years as “president for life”, and three years as self-proclaimed Emperor of Central Africa. He introduced a law that thieves would have an ear cut off for the first two offences followed by a hand for the third. He had hundreds of schoolchildren arrested for refusing to buy expensive school uniforms from a company owned by one of his wives.
It is alleged that he personally oversaw the murders of 100 of the children by his imperial guard. After his overthrow, he was tried and sentenced to death in his absence. He returned to the Central African Republic in 1986 and was put on trial for treason and murder. He was cleared of cannibalism but convicted for the deaths of the children. His death sentence was commuted to solitary confinement. He served a mere six years in prison.
4. Alberto Fujimori
Alberto Fujimori was president of Peru from July 1990 to November 2000. Facing charges of corruption, in 2000, he fled to Japan, from where he resigned from office by fax. This was rejected by congress in favour of impeaching him. He stayed away, but was arrested during a visit to Chile and extradited to Peru.
His first conviction was for ordering an illegal search and seizure, for which he received a six-year sentence. In April 2009, he was sentenced to 25 years’ jail for human rights violations for the kidnappings and murders committed by the Grupo Colina death squad that operated under his orders. Two months later he was found guilty of embezzlement for a US$15 million bribe. His last conviction was six years for bribery.
5. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was president of Brazil from 2003 to 2011. He was one of the most popular politicians in Brazil and was on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list in 2010.
He was sentenced to 9½ years in prison for money laundering and passive corruption (receiving a bribe). He appealed and his sentence was increased to 12 years. His popularity remains undiminished in Brazil.
6. Donald Tsang Yam-kuen
Donald Tsang was chief executive of Hong Kong from 2005 to 2012. During the last months of his term he became embroiled in corruption allegations. During the 2012 chief executive election, Tsang was reported by Oriental Daily News to have accepted favours from tycoons, including trips on private jets and yachts, and the allocation of a luxury three-storey penthouse in Shenzhen.
He stepped downed from office in June 2012 and was placed under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. In October 2015, Tsang was charged with misconduct in public office regarding a bid for a broadcasting licence and giving an award to the designer of his penthouse flat. He was later charged with a bribery offence.
Last year, he was found guilty of misconduct, cleared of the other two charges and sentenced to 20 months in prison.
7. Manuel Noriega
Manuel Noriega was the de facto ruler of Panama from 1983 to 1989. He worked with the CIA, which considered him an ally in the war on drugs despite his links to drug trafficking (he was reportedly paid up to US$100,000 for each drug shipment that passed through his borders).
He was a main conduit for the distribution of weapons, military equipment and cash for US-backed counter-insurgency forces across Latin America, including the Contras in Nicaragua and the M19 in Colombia. Somewhat hypocritically, in 1988 he was indicted in the US for money laundering, drug smuggling and racketeering.
The 1989 invasion of Panama resulted in his arrest, and he was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He was released after 17 years in 2007. Then, in 2010, he was extradited to France, where he was sentenced to seven years in prison. A year later he was extradited again, this time to Panama, where he was imprisoned for crimes committed during his term as ruler.
During his time in the Panama National Guard he faced accusations of rape and violence against a prostitute, and another rape of a 13-year-old girl.
Suharto was president of Indonesia from 1967 until 1998. He holds the record for being the most corrupt leader in modern history: he embezzled an alleged US$15 billion to US$35 billion.
In 2000, he was placed under house arrest for embezzling US$571 million of government donations to foundations under his control.
He was acquitted of corruption but his foundation was ordered to pay US$110 million.
His continuing ill health kept him out of court, while his son was convicted of ordering the death of a judge and illegal weapons possession, and his half-brother was convicted for corruption and the loss of US$10 million from the state.