A billion-dollar bribery scandal, a wire-tapping ex-president and a money-laundering Senator represented Latin America well, taking three of the top four spots in Transparency International’s 2015 contest for the worst cases of grand corruption worldwide.
Transparency International, an international think tank focused on researching government corruption, announced the winners of a public internet vote on their “Unmask the Corrupt” campaign last week. The organization had nominated nine cases in December out of 383 submissions.
Tops in Latin America and second globally was Brazilian oil company Petrobras, who is at the center of a scandal involving bribing politicians and money laundering totaling more than $2 billion. Following the state oil firm was Panama’s former President Ricardo Martinelli who left his country to avoid a pending prosecution for alleged illegal wiretaps of approximately 150 people in addition to accusations that his government misused more than $1 billion.
Immediately trailing, was current Dominican Senator Felix Bautista, who allegedly used his office for more than $130 million in contracts to his own companies and yet has managed to avoid prosecution. The first place finisher was former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, accused of stealing millions in state funds before fleeing to Russia, where he has continued to live in impunity.
The top four finishers received substantially more votes than the other five nominees which included FIFA and the U.S. state of Delaware. Bautista, for example, in fourth place received 9,786 votes, while the fifth place FIFA received 1,844 votes.
Charges and claims
Transparency International said they will now move to publicly sanctioning the culprits in the corruption cases. Their advocacy director, Casey Kelso, told Latin Correspondent this involves a publicity campaign as well as coordinating with other non-governmental organizations around the globe. Kelso cited work on the Petrobras scandal, as an example, saying Transparency International has tracked the activity of international companies linked to the scandal.
“We worked with our partners on what are those companies doing in other countries,” Kelso said in a phone interview.
“Some extend even beyond Latin America to Europe.”
Transparency International plans to make its “Unmask the Corrupt” campaign an annual project, according to Kelso, with new nominees for the worst corruption scandal every year.
The Brazilian oil giant became the center of an investigation into a decade-long scheme of bribery, kickbacks and money laundering, that cost the company at least $5.3 billion, according to a Reuters report. The scandal caused Brazil’s National Congress to investigate whether to impeach current President Dilma Rousseff in December, who chaired Petrobras’ board of directors during the alleged scandal years. A former treasurer of Rousseff’s ruling party was sentenced to 15 years for corruption and money laundering charges in September.
Economic shockwaves from the scandal have dealt a blow of approximately $27 billion or one percent of Brazi’s annual GDP, according to a Forbes report.
“People are furious at the political elite and big business for allowing such a culture of corruption to grow,” Transparency International wrote on their website about the scandal. “Over a million people have taken to the streets to protest this. What the public needs now is accountability and assurance that all those responsible for this massive scandal are brought to justice for any crimes committed.”
Panama’s most recent former president allegedly illegally surveilled more than 150 citizens during his five-year term. Additionally, six former ministers or vice-ministers of his government are under investigation for misusing or stealing public money. Panama’s current accounts prosecutor, Guido Rodríguez told Latin Correspondent in an interview last July, that the combined damages from these scandals could total $2 billion.
Despite the allegations surfacing more than a year ago, Martinelli has yet to see the inside of a courtroom. The ex-mandate left Panama in January of 2015 and has since been in Miami, Florida, according to his social media accounts. Martinelli underwent heart surgery in a Miami hospital on Monday.
Similar to Martinelli, Dominican Senator Felix Bautista has been accused of misusing millions in state funds. However, Bautista remains in office, avoiding prosecution for allegedly enriching himself as the director of the Engineering Supervisors of State Public Works Office. He was accused of misspending approximately $525 million during his tenure as director.
In an April 2015 statement, Transparency International called on the Dominican Republic to reopen an investigation against the Senator.
“The Public Ministry presented a well-documented corruption case, showing a complete mismatch between what Senator Bautista reports in his asset declaration and what his bank accounts reveal,” the organization wrote.
“However, the case was dismissed last week on technical grounds by a Supreme Court judge who is a member of the same political party of which Senator Bautista is a high ranking official.”
Venezuela, Haiti viewed as most corrupt in the region
In addition to the Unmask the Corrupt campaign, Transparency International tracks public perceptions of corruption around the globe on two projects. One is the Global Corruption Perceptions Index, which scores and ranks countries on perceived levels of corruption by experts. The second is the Global Corruption Barometer, which polls public opinion in country about specific experiences of corruption.
Explore data on Latin America and the Caribbean from these indices below. The Global Corruption Perceptions Index is from 2015 and the Global Corruption Barometer is from 2013.