On April 6, 2011, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is scheduled to stand trial for charges stemming from his relationship with Karima el-Mahroug, a nightclub dancer who performs under the name Ruby Heart-Stealer.
According to the charges, he paid el-Mahroug for sex while she was still underage, and when she was arrested for theft, he used his political muscle to have her released from police custody. Berlusconi has been in this type of trouble before, but it’s widely speculated that this may be the scandal that finally ends his career.
Berlusconi’s activities may be colorful, but they’re nothing that politicians haven’t engaged in before. World political history is rife with figures who have been involved in abuse of power, fraud and substance abuse, as well as the old standby, the extramarital affair.
Click ahead to see international political scandals that raised eyebrows and kept the tabloids in wide circulation.
By Daniel Bukszpan, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 18 Feb 2011
The State Duma is the lower house of Russian parliament, and it has been criticized in the past as being nothing more than a rubber stamp for President Dmitry Medvedev’s initiatives. This perception was reinforced in May 2010 when a new law regarding drunk driving passed the house on its first reading with 440 out of 450 votes. A landslide! However, there was one small problem. Only 88 deputies had shown up for work that day.
A video made the Ren TV news that showed the deputies running from vacant seat to vacant seat, pushing the voting buttons of their absent colleagues. The report claimed that in the twenty seconds in which ballots were cast, it was possible that deputies could have voted as much as nine times. The video was also immortalized on YouTube, allowing millions of people to view the flagrant abuse of Russian parliamentary procedure.
Silvio Berlusconi is the Prime Minister of Italy, a former cruise ship lounge singer and no stranger to the legal system. He has been charged multiple times for fraud, bribery and corruption, but those allegations are all overshadowed by his sex scandals.
One involved an escort named Patrizia D'Addario, who claimed that Berlusconi had been her client on three occasions. He denied the allegation, telling Corriere della Sera, "I have never paid a woman … I have never understood what satisfaction there is if the pleasure of conquest is absent."
He was also linked to Noemi Letizia, who was still a minor while they were together. Berlusconi denied these allegations as well, telling Corriere della Sera, "I never had spicy relations with Noemi. I swear on my children.” The Prime Minister is scheduled to stand trial in April 2011 for allegations that he hired a 17-year-old dancer as an escort.
Matrix Churchill was a UK machine tools company purchased by the Saddam Hussein regime in the 1980s. It was revealed that the company was selling weapon components to Iraq, and members of the British Ministry of Defense had coached them on how to get the export licenses. The findings of an investigation into the matter were published in 1996, and they were extremely damaging to the Conservative Party, which had sitting government ministers named in the scandal.
Although he wasn’t named in the report, Prime Minister John Major was leader of the already unpopular and scandal-plagued Conservative Party, which was defeated in 1997 by Tony Blair’s Labour Party in a decisive landslide. Afterwards, when Major announced that he was stepping down as Prime Minister, he stated that, "When the curtain falls, it is time to get off the stage." He then informed the press that he was going to watch a cricket match with his family.
In 2000, Chen Shui-bian was elected president of Taiwan and held the post for eight years. His presidency was first tarnished when his son-in-law, Chao Chien-ming, resigned from the president’s political party following allegations of insider trading. The scandal severely damaged the Taiwanese president’s reputation, and The China Post reported his approval ratings at a shockingly low 5.8%. However, after hitting bottom so decisively, he could at least take some solace in the fact that there was nowhere to go but up.
Unfortunately, his problems had just begun. In 2008, his wife, son and daughter-in-law were accused of embezzlement, misappropriation of funds and money laundering. Worse yet, the president was also named in the crime. In just one of the charges against him, he stood accused of wiring $20 million to multiple bank accounts under fraudulent identities. In the end, he and his wife were both fined over $15 million and sentenced to life in prison, although that sentence has now been reduced to 20 years.
Francois Mitterand was president of France from 1981 to 1995. He was married to his wife Danielle for over 50 years, but he had engaged in several extramarital affairs, most notably with Anne Pingeot, who got an apartment and the protection of a presidential security team, all at taxpayer expense. The affair endured for many years and produced a daughter named Mazarine, who was kept a secret from the press thanks to illegal wiretapping that Mitterand had ordered as part of his campaign against terrorism.
In 1994, Mazarine Pingeot turned 20 years old and could no longer be protected as a minor. The identity of her father became public knowledge and a media circus ensued. Mitterand died of prostate cancer in 1996, but he made gossip headlines even in death when Anne and Mazarine Pingeot showed up at his funeral. They had been invited by none other than Danielle Mitterand, who seated them next to the legitimate family.
Valentin Kovalev was the Russian Minister of Justice. He was forced to step down from his position in 1997 when videos surfaced showing him cavorting with women in a nightclub bathhouse owned by Solntsevskaya Bratva, one of Russia’s notorious organized crime rings. The video substantiated longstanding rumors that Kovalev was linked to the criminal organization, and it has been alleged that the Russian government allowed the video to surface in order to embarrass Kovalev into resigning.
Kovalev’s problems didn’t end when he joined the ranks of the unemployed. In 1999, the disgraced former minister was arrested and charged with misappropriation of charity funds and receiving bribes amounting to tens of thousands of dollars. However, due to Kovalev’s poor health, a judge gave him a relatively lax sentence of nine years’ probation.
A Northern Ireland scandal took on cinematic overtones when a 19-year-old man had an affair with a woman 40 years older than him, a woman named Mrs. Robinson. Iris Robinson was a member of parliament and wife of Northern Ireland's government leader, Peter Robinson, and the extramarital affair was scandalous enough on its own. However, it was made worse by the fact that she had solicited $80,000 from local property developers so that her lover, Kirk McCambley, could open a restaurant.
None of the money had been disclosed to the Northern Ireland Assembly, which constituted a violation of the law. The scandal irrevocably tarnished Iris Robinson’s credibility, but it also damaged her husband’s political career. Despite his efforts to pressure her to return the money, he had breached his duties as First Minister by failing to turn in his wife as soon as he learned of the improprieties. One week after the allegations came to light, Iris Robinson retired from politics.
When the UK’s Labour Party campaigned in 1997, they pledged to support a European Union Directive banning tobacco company sponsorship and advertising. Bernie Ecclestone, the president and CEO of Formula One Management, was not happy with the pledge, since all of the leading Formula One teams had tobacco company sponsorship. After the Labour Party had won the election, Ecclestone met with Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's chief of staff, and walked away with an exemption from the ban for Formula One.
When the exemption came to light, three newspapers launched an inquiry, and after some sleuthing, they found that Ecclestone had donated £1 million to the Labour Party. The money was returned and Blair apologized, although he told BBC News that the exemption had nothing to do with the meeting and had been decided two weeks later. However, one year after Blair stepped down as Prime Minister, internal memos emerged that showed that the exemption was agreed upon at the meeting.
At the height of the Cold War, the KGB entrapped CIA officers by luring them with a “honey trap,” a beautiful Soviet woman used as a sexual lure to compromise US intelligence. The Iron Curtain has since fallen, but the technique remains in place, and it’s been used by the Kremlin to discredit Russian critics of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The trap involved a Moscow model known as “Katya,” who has been videotaped in throes of sexual and drug-fueled escapades with Putin critics in an effort to disgrace them.
One person caught on video was Ilya Yashin, leader of the anti-Putin Solidarity Party, who suspected that something was awry when “Katya” offered him cocaine. He quickly left the premises, but the damage was done, and the video aired relentlessly. Eduard Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party suffered the same fate. However, “Katya” didn’t just tarnish the reputations of political figures. She also seduced Viktor Shenderovich, a writer for a television show that satirized the Putin government, and Yury Shevchuk, the singer for DDT, an anti-Putin rock group.
In April 2010, British Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Gordon Brown was fighting for his political life. The man who had succeeded Tony Blair was one month away from a tough election and he needed everything to go right. On April 28, he engaged in a televised discussion with Gillian Duffy, a 65-year-old retiree and Labour voter. Brown was all smiles throughout, and then when the discussion was over, he was driven away in his car. He immediately began venting about the experience, referring to Duffy as a “bigoted woman” whom he should never have had to talk to.
Unfortunately, Brown didn’t realize that he was still wearing a live microphone supplied to him by Sky News, who picked up and rebroadcast every word, as did every other station that got a hold of it. The clip went viral, and Brown was forced to apologize to Duffy on BBC Radio, then visit her house for 43 minutes to apologize to her in person. Duffy was unimpressed, refusing to shake hands with him and saying that the experience had left her unlikely to vote. When the day of the election came, the Labour Party lost 91 seats, their biggest defeat since 1931, and Brown stepped down both as party leader and Prime Minister.
Jean Tiberi has long served the people of Paris. Apart from six years spent as the city’s mayor, he has also served as mayor of Paris’s 5th administrative district since 2007, and sits on the National Assembly of France. However, both he and his wife Xaviere have seen more than a few brushes with scandal. In 1998 a judge ordered a search of their apartment that found the couple in possession of numerous illegal guns, which they were forced to destroy in exchange for having the charges dropped.
In 2005, the Tiberis were investigated for fraudulently registering over 7,000 voters, 3,315 of whom delivered a 1997 election to him. But lest anyone think that Xaviere Tiberi was simply standing by her man, she has been characterized in the French press as the more belligerent of the two, a view based in part on a 2004 incident in which she got into a physical altercation with Aurielle Filipetti of the French Green Party after a district council meeting, an altercation which left Tiberi with head trauma.