It seems that any of the alleged facts or promises surrounding politics and economics are typically undependable at best. And although that’s unfortunate most of the time, when that volatile nature translates itself into political scandal every now and then we can’t help but get caught up in the fervour and the rather sordid excitement. Whether it be sleeping with an intern, hiding cash away to supplement somehow insufficient (!) salaries, or orchestrating events on an international scale, the naughty extra-curricular antics of people in power never cease to entertain and amaze.
The following events, affairs and schemes constitute five scandals that shook modern politics to their core while providing salacious fodder for the tabloids. We’ve focused on scandals which have had the biggest impact on those involved with regards to resignation, firing, or the near-loss of jobs. The international political arena certainly isn’t wanting for scandal, so we’ve selected these top five scandals based on unique characteristics which have made them stand out. We’re looking at the largest-scale controversies that can be traced right to the top; from presidents to prime ministers to other ill-fated conspicuous officials. Sure, a good sex scandal always makes headlines but it’s not special in and of itself – after all, don’t political offices come equipped with a willing lover and a number for an escort service? Below, are the five most truly cataclysmic political scandals of the modern age.
5. – The Moshe Katsav Rape Scandal, 2006
Coming in at number five is certainly the most sinister scandal on our list. This one see the the leader of the country ending up in prison – which is an extremely rare punishment for someone so powerful. What makes this scandal remarkable, though, is the fact that it was purely the fault of Israeli Prime Minister Moshe Katsav himself – he, individually, made some of the worst decisions in the history of politicians’ personal lives.
First, the scandal only broke when Katsav himself complained to the attorney general Menahem Mazuz that he was being blackmailed by a former, unnamed (in the court case) female co-worker. This accusation brought the allegations, true or not, to the attention of the police. The investigation eventually turned against Katsav as the facts piled up and more and more women came out against him. Mazuz stated, in January 2007, that he wanted to try the president, but the president was immune from prosecution under constitutional law.
So, after months of denial and legal struggle, Katsav resigned two weeks before the end of his 7 year term in July 2007. An out of court deal was settled whereby Katsav pleaded guilty to several charges of sexual harassment in return for a reduced sentence and for the rape charges to be dropped. Yet in April 2008, Katsav changed his mind and rejected the deal, apparently deciding the prosecution didn’t have sufficient evidence to convict him – another in a line of bad decisions. On December 30, 2010, he was found guilty with a maximum sentence of 49 years. Although the defence pled to have Katsav ‘imprisoned’ in his already-walled home for the duration of his sentence, he now resides in prison awaiting a chance for parole or appeal.
4. – Clinton and Lewinsky, 1998
When we think of sex scandal it’s hard not to think of this infamous presidential affair. In what seemed to be a glorified, international version of your average Jerry Springer case, the Clinton-Lewinsky Sex Scandal was a case with all the good tabloid fodder: Office place shenanigans, denial, court cases, investigative reporting, the President of the United States, and a young intern. But what really makes this scandal stand out isn’t just the fact that it involved the most powerful man on the planet, but that it led to his impeachment, although he was eventually acquitted.
22 year old Monica Lewinsky began her internship at the White House the same year Bill Clinton entered office. In 1998, in the midst of Clinton’s second term, evidence emerged that indicated he and Lewinsky had engaged in some sort of sexual relationship. What’s so scandalous is how this came to be public knowledge. In a sworn affidavit for another scandal, the “Whitewater Controversy”, Lewinsky publicly denied that she and Clinton had had any ‘inappropriate’ relations while working together. Unfortunately, like any young person who had just hooked up with the president, she had long before confided about Clinton to her friend and coworker, Linda Tripp. Tripp advised her to keep his gifts as evidence. She also advised Lewinsky not to clean one of the dresses she’d worn when meeting with Clinton to preserve the, ahem, physical evidence. And Tripp, being a reporter, began recording her conversations with Lewinsky.
Kenneth Starr was a lead investigator in the Whitewater Controversy and a friend of Tripp’s. When Lewinsky submitted her affidavit, Tripp gave Starr the tapes against the testimony and the entire relationship was unveiled, to become public knowledge. What followed was a media frenzy which divided the world’s opinion of Clinton, though he remains one of the most fondly remembered and well liked politicians in the world.
3. – Iran-Contra, 1988
Number 3 on our list came to light in 1986 despite occurring over the late 70s and early 80s. Though it never led to any major political figures being fired or resigning, it certainly involved a lot of players – if not the entire Congress – and it did involve criminal conviction and investigation of then-President, Ronald Reagan.
The Iran-Contra Affair brought together two seemingly separate countries into one giant mess of back door arms deals and cooked books. On the one hand, the US was involved in selling arms to Iran during the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s – which was illegal – and on the other, it was using the funds from these sales to support the Contras, the name given to a group of rebel organizations active in Nicaragua – which was also illegal.
Iran, then under control of the Ayatollah, bought arms from Israel which the US then resupplied to Israel for a small monetary profit. These profits were then used by the US to support the Contras in order to oppose the Sadinista government, a party which found its roots in opposition to US rule of Nicaragua in the 1930s. Nicaragua later sued the United States for supporting the Contras and won.
What makes this situation so scandalous is not only that every part of the operation was totally illegal, but no officials took responsibility, and those who admitted awareness denied the illegality.
In the end, no evidence was brought against the President even after multiple investigations, and then-Vice President Bush Senior also denied any knowledge. Despite this, many administrative officials were found to be involved in the deals, but only a handful were convicted due to the fact that the government refused to declassify certain necessary documents. Even more scandalous and telling? Those few who were charged eventually got pardoned by President Bush Senior.
2. – Profumo, 1963
The Profumo Affair is as close to real-life espionage as a scandal is likely to get. Not only did it involve sex, spies, Cold War era politics, and state secrets – it also led to the resignation of John Profumo, the British Secretary of State for War, and badly damaged his Prime Minister’s reputation.
Although the Profumo Affair can be classified as yet another sex scandal, it wasn’t Profumo’s adultery that was the issue per se. The real problem here was the worry of what was happening during the conversations with his then girlfriend, Christine Keeler, who was apparently also involved with a Soviet spy. The controversy that the Secretary for War was between the sheets with a potential Soviet spy mole was enough to force his resignation to save the dignity of the party, but even more scandalous is how the story broke.
The Profumo Affair came to light when Keeler started dating a new man named Gordon in 1962. When she tried to break it off, Gordon attacked her with an axe and held her hostage for two days. Fearing for her life, she ran to the aid of a former lover named Edgecombe. When Keller had broken it off with him, he tried to break into her home by shooting her lock with a handgun. After some confrontation, Edgecombe and Gordon went to court and Keeler’s affairs were publicly brought to light, bringing Profumo and her Soviet James Bond to centre stage. The whole glamorous, scandalous tale is the backdrop for Andrew Lloyd Webbber’s much-anticipated new musical.
1. – Watergate, 1974
The first and only scandal to lead to an American Presidential resignation, this controversy lent its name to almost all scandals since in the form of the suffix ‘-gate’. It’s one of those events everyone knows about, and almost no one actually understands. Really, to this day no one fully knows what the point was!
On June 17, 1972, five men were arrested for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate office complex. When searched, they were found to be carrying cash linked to a ‘slush fund’ used by the Committee for the Re-Election of the President (i.e. Nixon).
In a separate incident, Nixon installed a recording system in the Oval Office that led to major investigations and cover-ups which eventually saw the conviction of some 40 officials in Nixon’s administration, and – as we’ll see, eventually – his own resignation.
Investigators managed to get hold of transcripts of the tapes and revealed that Nixon had been somehow involved in organizing the Watergate break in. To this day, however, it is unclear what the break in was for. Though Nixon denied allegations, the Supreme Court was prepared to impeach, so before that could happened, Nixon resigned.
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