Leaders Have Been Prosecuted Around the World

At least 78 countries have jailed or charged former rulers since 2000
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 2, 2023 5:00 PM CDT
Leaders Have Been Prosecuted Around the World
Former Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian waves to supporters as he is taken from the Taichung prison by his son Chen Chih-chung in 2015 for medical treatment.   (AP Photo)

Seen through a US perspective, the prosecution of a former president is undeniably unprecedented. But globally, it's not even unusual. At least 78 countries have jailed or prosecuted leaders who have left office since 2000, Axios reports. It's happened in democracies including France—which searched the home of former President Nicolas Sarkozy—Israel, and South Korea. Part of the reason is that other nations don't confer the near-immunity on leaders that US custom does, per the Los Angeles Times. It's not necessarily the mark of a thriving system, but in Peru, nearly every president in the past 38 years has been convicted of crimes in office, faces pending prosecution, or is fighting extradition from another country to answer charges. Here's a worldwide sampling:

  • Pakistan: Former Prime Minister Imran Khan was charged last August under anti-terror laws, per the BBC, accused of threatening state officials.
  • Taiwan: Former President Chen Shui-bian received a prison sentence of 20 years after being convicted in 2009 of embezzling government money, forgery, and money laundering, per the BBC.
  • France: Sarkozy faced a series of investigations for various corruption accusations after leaving office, per the Times. He was sentenced to a three-year term for judicial tampering. He's appealing a 2021 conviction for illegal campaign financing, per USA Today. Jacques Chirac, another former president, was convicted in 2011 of misusing public money, breach of trust, and illegal conflict of interest involving his earlier term as mayor of Paris.
  • Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being tried on corruption charges, including breach of trust and bribery, even as he rules the country. Former President Moshe Katsav was convicted of raping an ex-employee before taking office, as well as other crimes.
  • Italy: Silvio Berlusconi has been tried three times in connection with the raunchy "bunga bunga" parties he hosted while prime minister. He was acquitted in February, the most recent case, but convicted of tax fraud in 2013.
  • South Korea: Former President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years in prison for corruption, then pardoned after five. Former President Roh Moo-hyun killed himself in 2009 while up against corruption charges; he'd admitted his relatives received $6 million from a businessman while he was in office but said it wasn't a bribe.

Although part of the reason the US stands apart probably is the lesser degree of accountability, an analyst said, aspects of the system might contribute, such as a nonpolitical civil service and the independence of such agencies as the Federal Reserve. Also, "we've been very lucky in the US to rarely have presidents who have exhibited such blatant disregard for the law," said Mark Schmitt of the New America think tank. Axios maps the nations that have moved to punish leaders here. (More prosecutions stories.)

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