It’s a fact that for a country to thrive and prosper, there needs to be law and order, as well as an honest government in place that has the best interests of the people at heart. However, there are several instances in history (and even today) where some leaders choose to use their positions of power to brutalize the inhabitants of their own country and loot large amounts of money. Here are ten examples of dictators and presidents who stole obscene amounts of money from their countries.
10 Sani Abacha - Nigeria
Nigeria has been in the news a lot lately – mostly because of the uproar over the kidnapping of the young school girls by the extremist terrorist organization, Boko Haram. However, this is a country that is no stranger to political turmoil. From 1993 to 1998, the country was led by a very corrupt army general named Sani Abacha. He seized power via a military coup and what ensued was one of the most extreme cases of political looting the world has ever seen. It has been reported that through his 5-year reign, he looted between $2-$5 billion dollars from the country’s coffers. Just recently, the United States Department of Justice froze $450 million of the ill-gotten gains hidden in bank accounts in the Channel Islands and France. The US Department of Justice is also seeking another $100 million from Abacha’s investment portfolios in 3 Bank accounts in the United Kingdom. This represents the highest amount of money being sought after by the United States in a civil forfeiture case against a foreign leader.
9 Viktor Yanukovych - Ukraine
This year has been a tumultuous one for the people of Ukraine. The tensions have played out on the world scene with the people voicing their demands to be part of the European Union rather than constantly being under the thumb of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. One of the results of the uprising was the ouster of Viktor Yanukovych, the corrupt leader who was pretty much a puppet of Russia. He ended up fleeing the country during the uprising and when protesters stormed his lavish 343 acre estate, they couldn’t believe what they found. The corrupt leader was living like a king - there was a man-made lake, a huge and ornate Pirate galleon (ship), a large garage with a full fleet of luxury vehicles and motorbikes, a private petting zoo with exotic animals, bathrooms with gold toilets, expensive art worth millions and he even had bottles of vodka personalized with his face. This is how he was squandering the country’s riches while the majority of Ukrainians were suffering to make ends meet. Shameful!
8 Suharto - Indonesia
Suharto was the president of Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, and during that time, he did enough looting for three life times – and this was all at the expense of the impoverished people of Indonesia. One of the main reasons that Suharto stayed in power so long was that he was staunchly against the communist wave sweeping Asia at the time of his ascendancy. Because of this, western governments recognized him as a needed ally. So under this shroud of this protection, Suharto went on to steal as much as $35 billion from Indonesia. He was eventually charged in court for looting over $500 million of state money by setting up several fake charities. His health was already failing and he was deemed too ill to stand trial. Suharto eventually passed away in 2008 from complications arising from a weak heart.
7 Mobutu Sese Seko - Zaire
Mobutu was another leader who held on to power and stole money from his government because he had support from the powers that be in the West, namely Belgium and United States. He took power via a military coup in 1960 against the nationalist leader of that time, Patrice Lumumba. He officially became the head of state in 1965 and he proceeded to bilk the nation of Zaire of almost $4 billion dollars. His was a brutal and authoritarian regime. He would seek out and murder any one challenging his power and he diverted most of the money lent to the country by the IMF to his own personal accounts. He had several villas in Europe and lived a rich and opulent lifestyle. He was eventually overthrown from power in May of 1997 and died in September of that year while on exile in Morocco.
6 Ferdinand Marcos - Philippines
President Marcos ruled the Philippines from 1965 to 1986 and his story is the one that’s mostly quoted when intellectuals discuss corruption and excessive abuse of power. Once again, his government was propped up by several Western governments and over his 20-year career, it’s believed that he embezzled and looted over $10 billion (That’s billion with a “B” people). One of the stories that is constantly reported by the media about his corruption was the shoe collection of his wife Imelda Marcos – it included over 3,000 designer shoes! He kept his money in Swiss banks under high levels of secrecy, and it was only 14 years after his death in 1989 that some of these banks released an amount of $657 million to the Philippine authorities.
5 Slobodan Milosevic - Serbia
Slobodan Milosevic was the president of Serbia from 1989 to 1997, and he was also the president of the Yugoslavian republic from 1997 to 2000. His reign was a brutal dictatorship with complete authoritarian views. After his term as president was over, he was charged by International Criminal Tribunal for war crimes including genocide and other offenses against humanity. In addition to all these serious charges, he was also responsible for bilking his country out of almost $1 billion dollars. When it comes to unsavory political characters, this guy is definitely at the top of the list.
4 Jean-Claude Duvalier - Haiti
Jean Claude Duvalier was the president of Haiti from 1971 to 1986. He was the son of Francois Duvalier aka Papa Doc, the wicked dictator who maintained a stranglehold over the small island country using Voodoo symbology and a legion of secret murdering police known as the Tontons Macoutes. Jean Claude’s father died at the age of 64, and he was sworn in as president at the age of 19. By all accounts, the son wasn’t as brutal as his father, but he did have an affinity for the lavish things in life. During his 15-year rule, it is believed that he looted between $300-500 million. While he was in power, Jean Claude Duvalier had a $3 million state-sponsored wedding, and he also made millions by secretly involving himself in illicit drug trading through his nation.
3 Joseph Estrada - Philippines
It’s a shame that the Philippines appears on the list twice, because honest & hardworking people deserve better leaders and politicians. Estrada came into power 12 years after the regime of Marcos ended. But even though the president had changed, the dishonorable acts still continued: nepotism, stock price manipulation, widespread corruption, shady charity deals and more. One of his major scams was starting a charity under his wife’s name and registering it with the Security Exchange Commission. Using this fake cover, Estrada channeled millions of dollar into this charity claiming that the beneficiaries were orphanages, shelters and hospitals. His rule lasted three years from 1998 to 2001 and it’s rumored that he looted over $80 million dollars within this time.
2 Hosni Mubarak - Egypt
Mubarak was the leader of Egypt from 1981 to 2011. His maintained a heavy-handed rule over the entire country by using the extremely strong and organized Egyptian army. He was also quite diligent in making sure that a large portion of the country’s money was diverted into his personal coffers. At the time of his death in 2012, he was apparently worth more than $70 billion with several high-end real estate investments in London, Los Angeles and Switzerland.
1 Kim Jong Un - North Korea
We left this dictator for last because he is still in power and also because his wickedness and evil treatment of his people is absolutely reprehensible. The young dictator Kim Jong Un of North Korea reigns over a country of about 24 million inhabitants, and the majority of these people live in abject poverty. He maintains his stranglehold over the country by operating a large network of prison camps where any dissidents of his rule are immediately sent for life. In these prisons, these people are physically and mentally abused, malnourished and often forage in the wild for rodents and snakes to eat – and most of these prisoners often go mad. While all this is happening, Kim Jong Un spends whatever money the country has on importing over $645 million dollars a year on luxury vehicles, 1000-seat private cinemas and other high-end goods. The country itself is not a rich one, the corrupt North Korea revenue sources include drug smuggling, selling alcohol in Islamic countries and illegally dealing ivory from Africa to China.