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This article is about the term for systematic corruption and thievery by the state or state-sanctioned corruption. For a state with ties or aid from organized crime syndicates, see Mafia state.

Kleptocracy, alternatively cleptocracy or kleptarchy, (from Greek: κλέπτης - kleptēs, "thief"[1] and κράτος - kratos, "power, rule",[2] hence "rule by thieves") is a form of political and government corruption where the government exists to increase the personal wealth and political power of its officials and the ruling class at the expense of the wider population, often with pretense of honest service.

This type of government is generally considered corrupt, and the mechanism of action is often embezzlement of state funds.

While the term can be used in its literal sense to mean a society based on theft, it is more commonly used derogatorily to point out a corrupt government or ruling class.


Kleptocracies are generally associated with corrupt forms of authoritarian governments, particularly dictatorships, oligarchies, military juntas, or some other forms of autocratic and nepotist government in which no outside oversight is possible, due to the ability of the kleptocrat(s) to personally control both the supply of public funds and the means of determining their disbursal. Kleptocratic rulers typically treat their country's treasury as though it were their own personal bank account, spending the funds on luxury goods as they see fit. Many kleptocratic rulers also secretly transfer public funds into secret personal numbered bank accounts in foreign countries in order to provide themselves with continued luxury if/when they are eventually removed from power and forced to leave the country.

Kleptocracy is most common in developing countries whose economies are based on the export of natural resources. Such export incomes constitute a form of economic rent and are therefore easier to siphon off without causing the income itself to decrease (for example, due to capital flight as investors pull out to escape the high taxes levied by the kleptocrats).

Kleptocracy, alternatively cleptocracy or kleptarchy, from Greek: κλέπτης (thief) and κράτος (rule), is a term applied to a government subject to control fraud that takes advantage of governmental corruption to extend the personal wealth and political power of government officials and the ruling class (collectively, kleptocrats), via the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service. The term means "rule by thieves". Not an "official" form of government (such as democracy, republic, monarchy, theocracy), the term is a pejorative for governments perceived to have a particularly severe and systemic problem with the selfish misappropriation of public funds by those in power.


The effects of a kleptocratic regime or government on a nation are typically adverse in regards to the faring of the state's economy, political affairs and civil rights. Kleptocracy in government often vitiates prospects of foreign investment and drastically weakens the domestic market and cross-border trade. As the kleptocracy normally embezzles money from its citizens by misusing funds derived from tax payments, or money laundering schemes, a kleptocratically structured political system tends to degrade nearly everyone's quality of life.

In addition, the money that kleptocrats steal is often taken from funds that were earmarked for public amenities, such as the building of hospitals, schools, roads, parks and the like – which has further adverse effects on the quality of life of the citizens living under a kleptocracy.[3] The quasi-oligarchy that results from a kleptocratic elite also subverts democracy (or any other political format the state is ostensibly under).[4]


In early 2004, the anti-corruption Germany-based NGO Transparency International released a list of what it believes to be the ten most self-enriching leaders in recent years.[5] In order of amount allegedly stolen (in USD), they were:

  1. Former Indonesian President Suharto ($15 billion – $35 billion)
  2. Former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos (at least $10 billion by 1986,[6][7][8][9] equivalent to about $21.6 billion in 2014 dollars[10])
  3. Former Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko ($5 billion)
  4. Former Nigerian Head of State Sani Abacha ($2 billion – $5 billion)
  5. Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević ($1 billion)
  6. Former Haitian President Jean-Claude Duvalier ("Baby Doc") ($300 million – $800 million)
  7. Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori ($600 million)
  8. Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko ($114 million – $200 million)
  9. Former Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Alemán ($100 million)
  10. Former Philippine President Joseph Estrada ($78 million – $80 million)

The Russian president Vladimir Putin is alleged to be the "head of the clan",[11] whose assets are estimated at £130 billion.[12]

Sources have also shown that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stole up to $70 billion.[13]

In addition, other sources have listed former PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat as having stolen $1 billion to $10 billion; and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari to have received kickbacks on contracts and misappropriating public funds, siphoning over $2 billion to his Swiss accounts.[14][15][16][17][18]

Nursultan Nazarbayev is a head of the Kazakhstan ruling clan with $7 billion assets.[19]

The partially recognized state of Kosovo is also reported to be run by a kleptocratic regime, mainly formed of members from one of the country's largest political parties, Democratic Party of Kosovo. A report on the wealth of Kosovan politicians showed that despite their relatively low incomes as civil servants, a significant number had amassed personal wealth sometimes amounting to sums exceeding several million euros.[20] More recently, EULEX reported on a specific case where illegal payments of 1.4 million euros had been made between the Kosovan Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Austrian State Printing Company which had previously won a tender to print Kosovan passports,[21] and a former transport minister and current deputy-president of the ruling Democratic Party of Kosovo Fatmir Limaj was also arrested by EULEX together with six other suspects on charges of organised crime and embezzling at least two million euros.[22]

Former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner (deceased) never fully accounted for an estimated US$1 billion that went missing from the public purse of Santa Cruz province during his tenure as provincial governor.[23]

China's former prime minister, Wen Jiabao, left office in 2013 with his close relatives controlling assets worth at least $2.7 billion.[24] The revelations were blocked in Chinese internet.[25]

Other terms[edit]

Demonstration banner with text: "Demokracie místo kleptokracie" (Democracy in place of kleptocracy). Peace rally in Brno for Real Democracy NOW, Moravian Square (cs), Brno.


A narcokleptocracy is a society ruled by "thieves" involved in the trade of narcotics. The term has its origin in a report prepared by a subcommittee of the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.[26] The term was used specifically to describe the regime of Manuel Noriega in Panama. The term narcostate has the same meaning.


Raubwirtschaft (German for "plunder economy," "robber economy," or "rapine") is a form of economy where the goal is to plunder the wealth and resources of a country or geographical area. The term is also used in a non-geographical sense, somewhat similar to the term "rapine." The term Raubwirtschaft is often used to describe some late 19th-century colonial and post-colonial practices during the Scramble for Africa. The Congo Free State of Leopold II of Belgium is frequently described as a Raubwirtschaft. One form of Raubwirtschaft is to start war against one's neighbours and then either plunder their national property and assets, or extort them as war reparations. The term is also used to describe the rainforest destruction.[citation needed] In a non-geographical sense, it may describe the illicit antiquities trade.[citation needed] Arnold J. Toynbee has stated the economy of the Roman Empire was based on Raubwirtschaft. Rome basically plundered the conquered territories and milked the provinces dry; there was little cash flow from Rome to the provinces. The internal economy was based on slavery, and unpaid work had no purchasing power. This effectively also prevented the rise of a middle class capable of innovation and enterprise that would have created new sources of wealth. The economy could be maintained only as long as the Empire was expanding; once the era of conquests ended in the Pax Romana, the empire was doomed.[citation needed] However, the economic and political power of the Western Empire lasted some four centuries after the establishment of the Pax.[27] On the other hand, the Roman Empire continued to expand until its territorial zenith in A.D. 117. The Crisis of the Third Century which followed in A.D. 235 was a major threat to Roman political unity, and impacted its future prospects - lending credence to the theory.


The term kleptocracy was also used to refer to the Russian economy soon after the Soviet collapse in 1991. The "democrats," led by Yegor Gaidar and Anatoly Chubais, freed prices in 1992 and unleashed hyperinflation before they privatized Russia's assets. Most Russian citizens lost their savings in only a few weeks. A few billionaire "oligarchs" amassed fortunes not by creating new enterprises, but by arbitraging the huge difference between old domestic prices for Russian commodities and the prices prevailing on the world market. Instead of investing in the Russian economy, they stashed billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts. Experts estimate that as much as $15 billion left Russia each year as either capital flight or laundered money from illegal transactions.[28] Referring to Russia Daniel Kimmage also used the terms: "kerdocracy" ("rule based on the desire for material gain") or "khrematisamenocracy" ("rule by those who transact business for their own profit").[29] Fareed Zakaria also described Russia as a kleptocracy on a July 23, 2012 airing of The Daily Show.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ κλέπτης, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  2. ^ κράτος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  3. ^ "Combating Kleptocracy". Retrieved 8 August 2008. 
  4. ^ "National Strategy Against High-Level Corruption: Coordinating International Efforts to Combat Kleptocracy". Archived from the original on 10 July 2008. Retrieved 8 August 2008. 
  5. ^ "Plundering politicians and bribing multinationals undermine economic development, says TI" (PDF). Transparency International. 2004. Retrieved October 16, 2006. 
  6. ^ Hunt, Luke (January 8, 2013). "End of 30-Year Hunt for Marcos Billions?". The Diplomat, Asian Beat section. 
  7. ^ Komisar, Lucy (August 2, 2002). "Marcos’ Missing Millions". In These Times. 
  8. ^ Ezrow, Natasha M. & Franz, Erica (2011). Dictators and Dictatorships: Understanding Authoritarian Regimes and Their Leaders. Continuum Publishing. p. 135. ISBN 978-1-4411-7396-6. 
  9. ^ Henry, James S. & Bradley, Bill (2005). "Philippine Money Flies". The Blood Bankers: Tales from the Global Underground Economy. Basic Books. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-56025-715-8. 
  10. ^ "Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI Inflation Calculator". United States Department of Labor. 
  11. ^ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/01/wikileaks-cables-russia-mafia-kleptocracy
  12. ^ The Sunday Times – Putin’s judo cronies put lock on billions in riches
  13. ^ "Hosni Mubarak's 'stolen' $70 billion fortune". 
  14. ^ Alon, Gideon; Amira Hass (2002-08-14). "MI chief: terror groups trying hard to pull off mega-attack". Haaretz. Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  15. ^ Nashashibi, Karim; Adam Bennett (2003-09-20). "Business & Economy: IMF audit reveals Arafat diverted $900 million to account under his personal control". The Electronic Intifada. Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  16. ^ For a general overview of the crucial importance of foreign funding in the peace process, and the PNA's use of such aid, see Rex Brynen, A Very Political Economy: Peacebuilding and Foreign Aid in the West Bank and Gaza, United States Institute of Peace Press, 2000
  17. ^ Stahl, Lesley (2003-11-09). "Arafat's Billions, One Man's Quest To Track Down Unaccounted-For Public Funds". CBS News. Retrieved 2007-07-21. 
  18. ^ Backgrounder: Corruption in the PLO’s Financial Empire[dead link]
  19. ^ Spiegel - What Human Rights Problems? European Politicians Shill for Kazakh Autocrat
  20. ^ Aliu, Majlinda (2011-06-07). "How Wealthy are Kosovo Politicians Really?". BalkanInsight. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  21. ^ "Detention on remand against German citizen". EULEX. 2012-11-15. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  22. ^ "EU prosecutors indict Kosovo ex-minister for corruption". EUBusiness. 2012-11-16. Retrieved 2012-12-02. 
  23. ^ "Argentina under the Kirchners: Socialism for foes, capitalism for friends". The Economist. February 25, 2010. 
  24. ^ "Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader". New York Times. October 25, 2012. 
  25. ^ "New York Times blocked in China over Wen Jiabao wealth revelations". Guardian. October 26, 2012. 
  26. ^ Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations of the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, December 1988
  27. ^ MacMullen, Ramsay. Corruption and the decline of Rome. ISBN 0-300-04799-1 Yale University Press, 1988. Pp
  28. ^ Johanna Granville, "Dermokratizatsiya and Prikhvatizatsiya: The Russian Kleptocracy and Rise of Organized Crime,"Demokratizatsiya (summer 2003), pp. 448-457.
  29. ^ Kimmage, Daniel (2008-08-12). "Russian 'Hard Power' Changes Balance In Caucasus". Rferl.org. Retrieved 2014-03-29. 

Further reading[edit]