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When the mighty fall

The week in corruption, 15 January 2021

Protesters at a rally against Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus, holding a banner reading "Fair elections. Tribunal. Freedom to the political prisoners." Photo: Homoatrox / Wikimedia Commons.

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2021 is off to a rough start for some heads of state around the world who are being confronted with their missteps.

This week, the outgoing US President Donald Trump made history by becoming the first president to be impeached twice. While the most recent developments need no reminder, his first impeachment came in December 2019 for the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Halfway across the world, the Estonian Prime Minister resigned over a corruption investigation involving his party.

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu is not faring much better. Israel has been rocked by protests – spurred by government’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis and Netanyahu’s indictment for corruption – with calls for the Prime Minister to resign.

In Belarus, protests have been raging for six straight months against President Alexander Lukashenko after he was declared winner of the dubious and heavily fettered presidential election in 2020.

Bulgaria has also seen daily anti-government protests for months against corruption and state capture during the reign of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov. In fact, state capture is a deeply troubling trend observed also in Georgia as well as Western Balkans and Turkey.

Corruption allegations are also catching up with several former leaders.

Just this week, two former prime ministers in Algeria went on trial for corruption; in Romania, former prime minister is investigated for suspected bribe-taking; and South Korea upheld former president Park Geun-hye's 20-year prison sentence for bribery.

In France, in a landmark trial for corruption, former president Nicolas Sarkozy might be facing a four-year prison sentence, including a two-year suspended sentence for corruption and bribery.

While it is encouraging to see corruption at the highest levels exposed and prosecuted, it also comes with a troubling reminder.

In far too many places around the world, grand corruption – abuse of high-level power to benefit the few at the expense of the many – goes unpunished. This is largely because the current international anti-corruption framework does not adequately address challenges in prosecuting corruption implicating political leaders.

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The Gambia: Grand corruption under Yahya Jammeh | Transparency International

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These failures devastate communities and rob people of a chance at sustainable development. We’ve said before and will say it again: this year’s UN General Assembly Special Session against Corruption (UNGASS 2021) should hit, not miss grand corruption.

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