The List

Greed Is Global

A world of corruption revealed by WikiLeaks.

It's a dirty world. From the diamond mines of Zimbabwe to the government coffers of Pakistan, U.S. diplomats run into corruption everywhere they go. We slogged through the muck and grime of the WikiLeaked cables to find the most egregious reports of official thievery:

Imported Gains

Country: Nigeria

Transparency International Corruption ranking: 134 of 178 countries

The Deal: There is, no doubt, more than one way to smuggle contraband into Nigeria. But if you're in the presidential palace, things get more complicated. That's apparently one reason that former Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua stayed close to Dahiru Mangal, a businessman from his home state of Katsina. In a 2008 cable, a "longtime mission contact" tells the embassy that Mangal is "Yar'Adua's ‘go-to man' to accomplish ‘anything filthy that Yar'Adua needs done' ... and also the ‘go-to' for any wealthy Nigerian, who wants to import ‘just about anything' into Nigeria." It worked this way:

Mangal owns a warehouse across the Niger border (likely close to the Katsina border with Jibiyya and Maradi) in which he stores hundreds of 40-foot shipping containers. XXXXXXXXXXXX claimed Mangal is able to import goods from around the world, including China. In return, Mangal requests a flat fee of 2 million naira (USD 17,000), excluding the cost of goods. Approximately 100 containers per month are brought into Kano, and goods are then delivered to clients or sold in Kano's Kurmi market.

The Dirt: Yar'Adua kept up a front of enforcing the rule of law while in office (he reportedly asked Mangal to sever his illicit ties when Mangal became an official presidential advisor, according to the cable). His wife, Turai, however, is rumored in Nigeria to be pulling no such punches. One embassy source noted the following incident:

XXXXXXXXXXXX said XXXXXXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXXXXX had been approached recently by a man claiming to speak on behalf of First Lady Turai Yar'Adua. The person, who arrived at the meeting with XXXXXXXXXXXX in a Peugeot with a "presidential" license plate, told XXXXXXXXXXXX the First Lady would "allow" them to construct the homes so long as she is given an advance payment of 250 million naira (USD 2 million). XXXXXXXXXXXX said he was willing to offer the First Lady twenty plots of land instead, to which the presumed emissary grimaced.

This anecdote merely touches on the massive scale of corruption in Nigeria, which has been well-documented elsewhere. Suffice to say that after the ex-president declared his assets at the beginning of his term, many wondered in what other country a chemistry professor turned rural outpost governor could earn $7 million. (Plus, the cable actually suggests that he underestimated his wealth, excluding "an USD 10 million house in central London.") Turai Yar'Adua has not responsed publicly to the allegations in the cable.

JEROME DELAY/AFP/Getty Images

Aiding Corruption

Country: Afghanistan

Corruption ranking: 176 of 178

The Deal: According to a 2009 cable, the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team operating in Ghazni province discovered that Governor Usman Usmani and his cronies were aid thieves, eating up international money meant for their people. Usmani is alleged in the cable to have embezzled the salaries of newly formed local Afghan security forces, diverted food aid to be sold on the black market, trafficked in the mineral chromite, and been complicit in stealing land intended for refugee resettlement.

The Dirt: Ghazni lies between the Afghan capital of Kabul and Kandahar province, where the military is working hard to push back against the Taliban. That key location, plus the region's incredible poverty, has won Ghazni international aid. But the cable offers a particularly chilling look at the challenges of putting any sort of assistance into a corrupt system: "the governor ... and certain district governors are engaged in a scheme to divert [U.N. World Food Program] WFP wheat and other food items to the black market to be sold." In one instance, a district government sold donated wheat for a profit, when it was meant to feed 1,788 families in need.

It's not just helping the poor that's messy; fighting the Taliban comes at a high price as well. In an attempt to build up local resistance against the insurgents, the Kabul government and NATO forces have paid "Arbakai" local forces, essentially local defense militias, to counterbalance the weight of the Taliban in their communities. In Ghazni, however, there had been problems with payment actually reaching those troops: In one particular case, according to sources quoted in the cable, Usmani kept $100,000 of the $160,000 payment and divided the rest amongst other district leaders.

MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

Mafia State

Country: Russia

Corruption ranking: 154 of 178

The Deal: A Feb. 12 cable from Moscow described "direct links to criminality" with former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov "at the top of the pyramid" of corruption. The cable alleges links between the mayor and his wife, a powerful construction magnate, and the powerful Solntsevskaya criminal syndicate and suggests that Luzhkov's rise to power was funded by criminal money, that the mayor had enriched himself by skimming off lucrative construction contracts throughout the city, and that critics of the mayor had been killed by the criminal underworld.

The Dirt: The cable predicted, correctly, that Luzhkov would soon be more of a liability than a boon for the Kremlin. The longtime mayor was fired in September 2010. But allegations of Russian corruption don't stop at Luzhkov. In another WikiLeaked cable, a Spanish prosecutor describes the country as a "virtual mafia state." Another accuses Prime Minister Vladimir Putin himself of having enriched himself through lucrative oil contracts.The Kremlin has dismissed the allegations in the cables as "rubbish."

Alexey SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images

The Juice Mogul

Country: Azerbaijan

Corruption ranking: 134 of 178

The Deal: Earlier this year, the U.S. Embassy in Baku wrote a series of get-to-know-you cables titled "Who Owns What," filled with biographical factoids on Azerbaijan's most colorfully corrupt elite. Kamaladdin Heydarov is current head of the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES), which, the cables note, "is viewed as a cash cow for Baku's elite" and considers its jurisdiction "anything that is associated with temperature, pressure, or isotopes -- categories broadly interpreted to include just about everything under the sun."

The Dirt: Heydarov stands out -- even in Azerbaijan's monopolistic economy -- as being "at the top of this mountain of non-competition," the Embassy claims. His empire includes "companies in food canning, construction materials, concrete, asphalt, chemicals, bricks, textiles, CD and DVD production (since licensed CDs or DVDs are generally unavailable on the local market, these are certainly all pirated), milk processing, tourism, gypsum materials, leather, agriculture, pianos, alcohol and spirits, juices, banking, insurance, and construction." It's a monolith second only to one in all of Azerbaijan, the cable notes: "the Pashayev family (into which President [Ilham] Aliyev married.)"

What does that mean for the Americans? They found out the hard way:

The Heydarovs have largely cornered the fruit juice market in Azerbaijan, maintaining extremely high prices for locally produced juices and watered-down juice drinks, while making life difficult -- with the help of State Customs -- for cheaper competitors from Turkey, Ukraine and Russia. When USAID tried to support the production and distribution of pomegranate products in Azerbaijan, they quickly learned that no one sells pomegranate juice, concentrate, or derivatives from Azerbaijan without Heydarov's permission.

Heydarov has yet to repond to the allegations through any English language sources.

Lars Baron/Getty Images

For-Profit Education

Country: Tunisia

Corruption ranking: 59 of 178

The Deal: First Lady isn't just a title for Leila Ben Ali, wife of the president of Tunisia. She and her family have become the economic brokers of the modern Tunisia, the leaked cables claim. In the summer of 2007, for example, the Tunisian government gave Ben Ali the land to build a new international school -- and about $1.5 million to start it. Together with co-owner Suha Arafat, widow of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Ben Ali turned the Carthage International School into a hot spot for the children of the Tunis elite. (It helped when, not long after, the government shut down Carthage's elite rival, the Bouebdelli School.) But just months after Ben Ali and Arafat began their apparently successful partnership, the two had a falling out over the school. The Tunisian government then revoked Arafat's visa while she was away in Malta. Effectively exiled, Arafat called the U.S. Embassy in Tunis to complain, blaming the whole mess on Ben Ali. By mid-2008, Ben Ali had sold the school "for a huge, but undisclosed sum," a cable claims. "[Source] noted any such sale would be pure profit since Ms. Ben Ali received land, infrastructure, and a hefty bonus at no cost."

The Dirt: To do business in Tunisia, you have to be in with "the Family" -- the First Family, that is, according to the Americans. "Whether it's cash, services, land, property, or yes, even your yacht, President Ben Ali's family is rumored to covet it and reportedly gets what it wants," the same 2008 cable notes. But Tunisians don't seem to blame Ben Ali himself for these misdealing; that honor goes to his wife's "Trabelsi clan," which includes the first lady and the families of her 10 siblings.

Whoever's at fault, what's clear is that corruption is getting worse in Tunisia on every level, the cables say. One source joked to the embassy that when inflation rose, even the price of bribes went up. Petty corruption muddies every transaction -- from getting into schools to winning government jobs, the cable explains. And even foreign businesses are taking the hint:

The prime example remains McDonald's failed entry into Tunisia. When McDonald's chose to limit Tunisia to one franchisee not of the GOT's [government of Tunisia] choosing, the whole deal was scuttled by the GOT's refusal to grant the necessary authorization and McDonald's unwillingness to play the game by granting a license to a franchisee with Family connections.

Tunisia has not taken fondly to the allegations reported in the cables, and last week it blocked the website of the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar, which had published the cables, the Guardian reported.

FETHI BELAID/AFP/Getty Images

The List

The 10 Worst Predictions for 2010

Ten pundits and politicians whose prognostications for this year completely missed the mark.

"More people are going to be put to work this summer."
-Vice President Joe Biden, White House briefing, June 17, 2010

The "recovery summer," as the White House termed it, seemed like a good bet for the administration after more than 300,000 new jobs were added between March and May -- admittedly not enough to keep up with the number of people entering the workforce -- but the economy actually retrenched over the course of the summer. By August, private-sector job growth had had fallen by two-thirds, the unemployment rate was still at 9.5 percent, and GDP growth had fallen to just 2.4 percent -- nowhere near fast enough to make up for the crash.

The summer of disappointment quickly became a fall of despair when it was announced that the unemployment rate had increased to 9.8 percent in November -- and voters punished Biden's party accordingly during the midterm elections.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"The market is telling you that something is not quite right ... The Chinese economy is going to slow down regardless. It is more likely that we will even have a crash sometime in the next nine to 12 months."
-
Investment analyst Marc Faber,  Interview on Bloomberg, May 3, 2010

Well, to be fair, the Chinese economy has slowed since the famously bearish investor and analyst made his prediction ... to a still-astounding 9.5 percent growth, one of the highest rates in the world and well above Beijing's fixed 8 percent target. If the crash is coming, it's taking its time.

Other outspoken China bears this year included investor James Chanos, who predicted that the country's property bubble would begin to burst in late 2010, unleashing "Dubai times 1,000 -- or worse." Property values are still rising, though they seem to be starting to cool.

Analysts have been predicting the end of the Chinese miracle for the last 30 years, but it never seems to happen. Maybe 2011 will finally be the year, but don't bet on it.

Bloomberg

"Sharron Angle beating Harry Reid, followed by an uncomfortable and possibly bitter concession speech from Harry Reid. ... Charlie Crist, an independent beating Marco Rubio, throwing a wrench in the Tea Party and extreme right winners of the night. ... I am one of the few of the mind-set that Christine O'Donnell could actually pull this thing off. ...  In the tight and hugely expensive California race, I predict a win for the former CEO of eBay."
-Meghan McCain, The Daily Beast, Nov. 2, 2010

Generally speaking, most pundits called the 2010 U.S. midterm elections pretty accurately. It was widely predicted that Republicans would take the House in a landslide but come up just short in the Senate, which is exactly what happened.

But Sen. John McCain's daughter and Dirty Sexy Politics author Meghan McCain's election day predictions were in a category of their own. Of the five races she called, she got only one right -- Lisa Murkowski edged out Joe Miller in Alaska. Nevada may have been a tough call, but there's a reason that few were "of the mind-set" that O'Donnell had a prayer in the Delaware senate race; she was trailing by 10 points heading into election day.  

McCain also gets extra points for referring to her father's close friend Sen. Joe Lieberman as a "former Republican." The Senator, who ran for both vice president and president as a Democrat, is now an independent who still caucuses with his old party.

Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

"The detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order. If any individuals covered by this order remain in detention at Guantánamo at the time of closure of those detention facilities, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States."
-President Barack Obama, Executive Order, Jan. 22, 2009

OK, so this isn't exactly a prediction, but Obama made closing Guantánamo a central promise of his presidential campaign and seemed awfully confident during his first weeks in office that getting it done was a matter of giving the order. When his self-imposed deadline passed on Jan. 22, there were still 196 detainees housed in at the prison. Currently, there are 174, and only three of them have been found guilty at trial.

Admittedly, Obama has faced tough obstacles, ranging from the legal mess left by his predecessor to foreign governments reluctant to take in detainees to Republican lawmakers who object to civilian trials for terror suspects, most notably 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Additionally, the administration now plans to hold around 50 detainees indefinitely without trial in the United States, whether or not Gitmo is eventually closed.

This month, the Senate began consideration of a bill that would block the closure of the controversial facility as will as civilian trials for its detainees. The measure is likely to gain more support in the new, Republican-dominated Congress, so Obama's promise will likely remain unfulfilled for the remainder of his term.

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

"We've got a government in a box, ready to roll in."
-Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to Dexter Filkins of the New York Times, Feb. 12, 2010

The offensive into the southern Afghan city of Marjah, a reputed Taliban stronghold, was supposed to be a turning point for the coalition in Afghanistan. NATO forces would take the town while trying to minimize civilian casualties and quickly move in a team of Afghan administrators, including a governor and 1,900 police, to provide security as soon as the shooting stopped. The long-planned and much-ballyhooed operation was to be a model for tougher and bigger targets such as Kandahar. On March 2, shortly U.S. troops took the town, McChrystal told the Washinton Post, "We're not at the end of the military phase, but we're clearly approaching that."

Ninety days later, McChrystal described Marjah as a "bleeding ulcer" in the Afghan campaign, as coalition forces struggled with incompetent local officials and a surprisingly robust local insurgency. As one local resident put it in May, "By day there is government. By night it's the Taliban."

In December, almost a year after the initial assault, the commanding U.S. general in the area, Richard Mills, finally declared the battle of Marjah "essentially over," though he admitted that the Taliban was still active on the outskirts of the town and refused to hazard a guess as to when NATO troops would be able to pull out, leaving the "government in a box" to finally govern itself. By that point, McChrystal was out of a job.

SHAH MARAI/AFP/Getty Images

"Well it won't be a bailout. We don't have the specifics, because this is very new, as to what the financial tool will be, but it could be anything from a guarantee to finding other ways of borrowing money. But again it's not going to be handouts."
-Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, BBC interview, Feb. 21, 2010

"Ireland is making no application for the funding... because clearly we are pre-funded right up to the middle of next year."
-Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen, BBC interview, Nov. 15, 2010

When European prime ministers start repeatedly denying that they will need an EU bailout, it's never a good sign. Just two months after Papandreou clearly stated that he wouldn't go asking for a bailout for his nation's embattled economy, he formally requested exactly that from the EU and IMF, calling it a "a national and pressing necessity." The request was approved in May to the tune of $146.2 billion, and not a moment too soon. Analysts feared that Greece's economic woes could imperil other Eurozone economies, leading to contagion. Ireland was next to fall. After months of resisting, Ireland applied for a $100 billion bailout just a week after Cowen declared the country "pre-funded" until next year.

So when Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero confidently declared in November that there is "absolutely" no chance of Spain needing a bailout, there's good reason to be skeptical.

AFP/Getty Images

"The Bolivarian leader's vaunted popularity tumbles. The mood among the humblest Venezuelans, who put Comandante Hugo in power in the first place, and the disgruntled middle class, accustomed to Western-style consumerism, turns mean. The military steps in to depose Chávez and restore order, as 21st-century socialism spins toward the familiar 20th-century tableau of scarcity, poverty, and chaos."

-Newsweek, World Predictions for 2010, December 2009

Some of Newsweek's predictions were spot on. The venerable weekly correctly called a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government in Britain and a new round of financial woes for Europe. But the magazine's editors did themselves no favors with the odd specificity of their prediction for Venezuela. Chávez himself scoffed at the prediction last year, saying that Newsweek "feeds on hatred and the wishes of the imperialism that they represent."

A year later, Chávez's popularity is down, but el presidente is not out. In fact, the Venezuelan parliament appears poised to once again grant him sweeping new emergency powers. As for Newsweek, it was sold for a reported price of $1 in August. Sounds like Hugo may have had the last laugh.

YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

"[W]e should be wondering how many are aware that from June 20 U.S. warships, including the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, escorted by one or more nuclear submarines and other warships carrying missiles and cannons more powerful than the old battleships used during the last World War between 1939 and 1945, have been moving toward the Iranian coast via the Suez Canal. This movement of the Yankee naval forces is accompanied by Israeli military ships, carrying equally sophisticated weaponry, intended to supervise any vessel involved in the import or export of commercial products required by the Iranian economy for its operations.[...] I initially thought, as I analyzed the current situation, that the conflict would start at the Korean peninsula, where the second Korean War would break out, and that another war would immediately follow; the one that the United States would impose on Iran.

Now, we are witnessing a different turn of events: the war in Iran will immediately spark off that of Korea.

-Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Granma, June 25, 2010

Throughout June, Cuba's former revolutionary leader turned tracksuit-wearing, all-purpose pundit wrote a series of columns predicting that the world was on the brink of a nuclear war. First, he surmised that the United States had engineered the sinking of the South Korean vessel Cheonan to create a pretext for attacking North Korea. Then, he seemed to change his mind, theorizing that Israel and the United States would "take advantage of the enormous interest aroused by the football World Cup" in South Africa to prepare an attack on Iran that would then spark a nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula. In either scenario, it looked like a rough summer.

By July, Castro admitted that he had jumped the gun a bit by predicting nuclear conflict by the end of the World Cup, but said he still felt that an atomic Armaggedon was imminent. "When something like this [nuclear war] begins, all the responses are preprogrammed. ... It is only a question of seconds," he told a group of visiting foreign ministers. In August, he was still warning of an imminent nuclear war in Korea and Iran during a rare appearance before the Cuban parliament, though given that he also repeatedly referred to Russia as the U.S.S.R. and said that the Big Bang happened 18,000 years ago in the same speech, some skepticism is probably warranted.

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images

"Once that uranium, once those fuel rods are very close to the reactor, certainly once they're in the reactor, attacking it means a release of radiation, no question about it. ... So if Israel is going to do anything against Bushehr it has to move in the next eight days."

-John Bolton, Fox Business Channel, Aug. 17, 2010

The former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations made this list last year for repeatedly pronouncing that Israel and the United States were running out of time to attack Iran's nuclear program, a claim he's been making since at least 2007. This year, he was at it again, declaiming the necessity of attacking the Iranian reactor at Bushehr, regardless of the fact that it's a plutonium-powered reactor for civilian power and "does not represent a proliferation risk," according to the U.S. State Department.

Worse, although Bolton's initial timeline for attacking Bushehr was eight days from Aug. 17, later the same day, in an interview with Israeli radio, it had shrunk to three. But not to worry: Despite the many, many Rubicons that we have now crossed, Bolton still believes it's a great time to bomb Iran.

Meet the Press/Getty Images

"There is a high probability that the collapse of the United States will occur by 2010."

-Russian Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Academy Dean Igor Panarin, speech at the academy, March 3, 2009

It might be easy to dismiss Panarin as a crank, but the former KGB analyst heads the Russian Foreign Ministry's academy for future diplomats and is a fixture on mainstream media outlets in Russia. For years, Panarin has predicted that immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation would together lead to the demise of the United States in 2010. And he's done so with remarkable specificity: His research led him to believe that in June or July, the United States would break into six pieces and that Alaska would finally return to Russian control. (The Palins are undoubtedly on high alert.)

Panarin's theories started to get new international attention after the economic crash of 2008, but thankfully, America made it through the long, hot summer of 2010 (mostly) intact.