According to dictionary definitions, kleptocracy comes from the Greek word: kleptēs for thief, and kratos, for “power” or “rule” – hence “rule by thieves.”
It is a term that can be applied to a government seen as having a particularly severe and systemic problem with officials or a ruling class, those called kleptocrats, taking from the people and gaining for themselves.
The Hudson Institute, a well-known D.C. think tank, founded in 1961 that conducts innovative research on global security and prosperity, recently started a Kleptocracy Initiative. It actually measures the extent of such thievery. It analytically looks at the threat posed by autocracy, especially the financial practices of such regimes.
For them, kleptocracy is a system in which national economies are exploited for the illicit enrichment of a well-connected elite.
In other words, such regimes promote widespread, systemic corruption – affecting the lives of citizens, and threatening individuals and institutions.
The Kleptocracy Archive, is a free online database of documents that Hudson has developed illustrating the malfeasance emanating from corrupt authoritarian regimes.
You can view the entire archive here. It is most illustrative and well documented.
In history, the worst kleptocrats, according to the Guinness World Records book, which keeps such records, have included this notorious list:
- President Suharto, president of Indonesia from 1967 until 1998, when his regime was overthrown, was the world’s biggest kleptocrat. That is a person who thieves from his government. Transparency International estimated that he had stolen $35 billion.
- Ferdinand Marcos, president of the Philippines from 1972-86, $10 billion
- Mobutu Sese Seko, president of Zaire from 1965-97, $5 billion
- Sani Abacha, president of Nigeria from 1993-98, $5 billion
- Slobodan Milosevic, president of Serbia/Yugoslavia from 1989-2000, $1 billion
- Jean-Claude Duvalier, president of Haiti from 1971-86, $800 million
- Alberto Fujimori, president of Peru from 1990-2000, $600 million
- Pavlo Lazarenko, prime minister of Ukraine from 1996-97, $200 million
- Arnoldo Alemán, president of Nicaragua from 1997-2002, $100 million
- Joseph Estrada, president of the Philippines from 1998-2001, $80 million
It has been reported that India’s Gandhi family, considering all branches, likely has stolen in the hundreds of billions of dollars, most of which is hidden in accounts in Switzerland.
Putin and the Saudis and other Middle Eastern thieves should arguably also be on this list, as could other older despots, but inflation has swelled the numbers for the top 10 and you could say – it is their oil, after all.
Russian thievery is arguably a whole separate category, and Putin and his Kremlin gang have literally looted the entire country, allegedly making him perhaps the richest person in the world.
What about our own homegrown kleptocrats?
Should we not place the Clintons at the very top of the list, given the established facts that they went from humble civil servants to a net worth of some $245 million in short order? And they used the illegal and corrupt mechanism of their hydra-like charity, whose principal public face to the world since mid 2013 is called the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
How much money have donors sent to the Clinton Foundation?
The truth is, no one actually knows.
Though applicable laws demand that U.S. charities, such as those run by the Clintons, make timely and granular public disclosures, no Clinton charity has ever done so since October 1997, when the original tax-exempt entity set out to build a presidential archive and research facility in Bill Clinton’s home state of Arkansas.
No competent and independent accounting firm has ever verified how much money donors sent to the Clinton Foundation since inception, or what the Clintons and their associates did with contributed donations.
That said, press releases, glossy brochures, and unvetted financial disclosures report considerable activity – cumulative declared inflows to the Clinton Foundation from 1997 through 2014 exceed $2 billion, while cumulative outflows during the same period are stated to be approximately $1.8 billion.
Judging from Clinton Foundation disclosures, the overwhelming majority of activity had nothing to do with the original authorized purposes of being a Little Rock presidential archive.
Beginning in January 2001, shortly after the Clintons left the White House, Bill Clinton began raising funds in the name of his foundation ostensibly to pursue myriad causes as far flung as relief of natural disasters, fighting HIV/AIDS and arresting adverse impacts of “climate change.”
There is no readily available evidence in the public domain that Bill Clinton and others responsible for oversight ever validly obtained authorization to so radically alter focus of the Clinton Foundation, from the chief government overseer of U.S. charities – the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
This brings us to one element of the Clinton Foundation that started operating by September 2005 the (so-called charitable) Clinton Global Initiative that claims to be a charity but, instead, seems to serve as vehicle where the Clinton family and their associates likely sell influence and peddle access while in power.
To see how much potential there has been to engage in activities that are far from being “charitable” and more likely means to market products and services, and concoct business and investment transactions with powerful government leaders, take a close look through the searchable database of “Commitments to Action” found at this link. These are unenforceable indications of intent to pursue supposed good works that do not appear to be monitored by any competent and independent overseer or regulator in any meaningful way.
Likely by design, there is no way to tell how much charitable good work truly gets performed and how much Clinton Global Initiative contributors gain, by comparison, from pursuing projects gained under the cover of philanthropy.
Would eight more years of Clinton rule not push a family that was literally “dead broke” in January 2001 to the top of the all time earnings list?
Look at these facts: We now know that the Saudi government has donated some $25 million to the Clintons: Qatar, $5 million; Kuwait, another $5 million; and $17.7 million has been given from other foreign governments.
During Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, the Foundation operated in at least 29 countries, including places that contained rampant corruption – such as Nigeria, Uganda, Ukraine, Haiti, Mozambique, China and South Africa.
The Clinton duo is a world-class kleptocratic machine taking from the world’s worst regimes to enrich themselves. This is what American democracy has stooped to. How much lower can it go? Wait and see.
Now the antidote to kleptocracy is twofold: transparency, so the citizens of the whole world can see for themselves what is being stolen, by whom, and to what end, and penalty.
The U.S. and like-minded democratic countries seriously interested in good governance, if that is not an oxymoron, need to enforce a rule.
Any funds stolen from the people and deposited anywhere in the world to the inurement of any kleptocrat must be returned, with interest. The kleptocrats should then be charged and sentenced for felony – or should we say, grandest larceny with a fine triple to the funds stolen and lifetime imprisonment.
You can go to Yale, or you can go to jail. Oh, the Clinton’s could do both!