FP: Sleaze Factor- The Democratic Nations whose leaders engage in corrupt or illegal acts

FRANCE: 

The target: President Nicolas Sarkozy

The alleged crimes: Illegal cash payments

The investigation: French prosecutors recently investigated allegations that Sarkozy illegally received cash in unmarked envelopes from Liliane Bettencourt, France’s richest woman, as a presidential candidate in 2007. According to Bettencourt’s former accountant, the L’Oreal heir’s financial advisor gave €150,000 to the treasurer of Sarkozy’s campaign — an allegation denied by both parties. The former treasurer, who is now labor minister, was officially cleared of wrongdoing, but opponents say the investigation by France’s finance inspector was not impartial.

ITALY:

The target: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

The alleged crimes: Corruption, organized crime

The investigation: Berlusconi claims with pride that he is “the most legally persecuted man of all time.” More than 109 cases have been brought against him, ranging from nonpayment of taxes to false accounting, bribery to prostitution. By his own count, he has been subjected to more than 2,500 court hearings. But despite the best efforts of prosecutors and political opponents, the 73-year-old Berlusconi seems unlikely to ever see the inside of a jail cell or be forced to step down.

The Teflon prime minister has managed four times to pass laws granting himself immunity from prosecution, though each of which has been judged unconstitutional by the courts. For his part, Berlusconi has accused the Italian judicial system of having an ingrained left-wing bias.

ISRAEL:

The target: Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

The alleged crimes: Bribe-taking

The investigation: With internal probes into the 2008 offensive in Gaza and the controversial boarding of a pro-Palestinian flotilla earlier this year, Israel certainly doesn’t lack for high-profile investigations. But the country is riveted by the ongoing corruption investigation against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was plagued by corruption charges throughout his term. New York businessman Morris Talansky claims he gave Olmert more than $150,000 for his campaign for mayor of Jerusalem in 1997, but the money was spent on fine hotels, cigars, and watches.

Perhaps more shockingly, Olmert is accused of charging multiple nonprofit groups — including a charity for the disabled and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial — for the same fundraising trips. Olmert announced his resignation in 2008 and was charged with fraud a year later.Olmert is the first Israeli head of government to be indicted on corruption charges, though current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been the subject of investigations in the past. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is also under investigation for a number of crimes, including bribery, fraud, and money-laundering.

Taiwan:

The target: Former President Chen Shui-bian

The alleged crimes: Corruption, embezzlement

The investigation: Chen was named as a suspect in a $450,000 embezzlement case within hours of stepping down as president of Taiwan in 2008 and sentenced to life imprisonment less than a year later — an ignominious end to the political career of the once renowned human-rights-lawyer-turned-politician.

Prosecutors had long been gunning for Chen, who enjoyed immunity from prosecution as president — his wife and son-in-law were arrested on charges of forgery and insider trading while he was still in office. Chen’s political opponents also maintained that Chen faked an assassination attempt in 2004 to win voter sympathy in his reelection bid.

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