views updated May 29 2018


Consider the first sentence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's (17121778) Discours sur les arts et sciences (Discourse on the arts and sciences, 1750): "Has the restoration of the sciences and arts contributed to the purification of mores, or their corruption?" Corruption denotes deterioration, a qualitative decline from an original (absolutely or relatively) natural or pristine state; related terms include decay, deterioration, disintegration, corrosion, and degeneration. Corruption is sometimes used in a related (but distinct) sense, to denote a state of affairsa "state of corruption"often in contrast to one characterized by virtue. In either form (verb or noun) corruption is an intensely historical term, describing either a process of qualitative spoliation or the end result thereof.

The discourse of corruption and virtue offers critics and philosophers a powerful rhetorical tool with which to indict societies' perceived shortcomings vis-à-vis some past standard. When placed into narrative form, corruption accounts generally contain four elements: (1) a description of the symptoms of corruption (social, moral, political); (2) identification of an agent of corruption; (3) a timeline by which critics identify the agent's appearance and trace its corrupting influence; and (4) a call to action to turn back corruption and restore lost virtues.

In the history of ideas and historiography, the discourse of corruption has often, though not exclusively, been associated with the tradition of civic republicanism. More recently, a significant body of research has brought the tools of social science to bear on the identification and measurement of corruption in the political sphere, and offered general theories about conditions under which corruption is fostered or retarded. This entry will point out, in an admittedly abbreviated manner, some of the main lines of research and refer the reader to key texts in the literature on corruption.

Corruption, Civic Republicanism, and Republican

Perhaps the most rhetorically powerful and historically influential language of corruption appears in the tradition of civic republicanism associated with Italian Renaissance humanists like Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527), Francesco Guicciardini (14831540), and Leonardo Bruni (c.13701444), which emphasizes the civic and social nature of the human good. Drawing on such classical sources as Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.) and Cicero (10643 b.c.e.), republicans see the realization of civic virtue as requiring the active involvement of relatively equal citizens in making decisions about their common life. Thus, anything that distracts citizens from the common goodinternal factions, luxury, security, foreign influences, great disparities of wealth (even, for some thinkers, Christianity itself)can be seen as an agent of corruption. Conversely, anything that fosters or rewards citizens' mutual self-regard and keeps their efforts focused on the good of all promotes civic virtue and helps stave off corruption. Drawing on both classical and Renaissance ideas, Rousseau advances the single most important modern theory of republican virtue.

Republican concerns about virtue and corruption are not limited to Europe: the tradition has also fundamentally affected the historiography of the American experience. Alongside the American obsession with Lockean individualism, a republican school emphasized the Founders' concern for civic virtue in the citizenry. Connecting Italian humanism and the American founding was the contribution of J. G. A. Pocock's monumental The Machiavellian Moment : Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (1975). For Pocock, a discernible discourse about corruption, virtue, and the very nature of the political task ran from Renaissance Italy through England's civil wars and across the Atlantic, where it facilitated the development of the American character and the split with England. The ideal of the active citizen, of republican politics as the effort to preserve civic virtue and keep corruption at bay, has exerted a strong pull on the political imagination down to our own time.

Political Corruption

Political scientists have developed sophisticated analyses for the study of political corruption. No single definition of political corruption can avoid controversy since, barring consensus on the proper nature and extent of legitimate politics, we necessarily lack agreement on how to define corrupted politics. Nonetheless, as one would expect, researchers emphasize political, institutional, or bureaucratic locations of corruption; the misuse of public power; or "behavior which deviates from the formal duties of a public role because of private-regarding pecuniary or status gains; or violates rules against the exercise of certain types of private-regarding influence" (Nye, p. 419).

Political corruption presents itself in a host of settings. Susan Rose-Ackerman considers the legislative and bureaucratic arenas, and presents political corruption as an economic, cultural, and political phenomenon with important implications for democratic societies. More broadly, scholars have attempted to analyze political corruption in a variety of global contexts (Heidenheimer, 1970; Heywood, 1997). Nor has this research necessarily involved a turning-away from historical concerns with equality and participation: Patrick Dobel offers a general theory of corruption that draws on classical authors yet speaks to contemporary political life, suggesting practical steps toward staving off corruption in modern states.

Other Contexts

Countless reform movements within the world's major religions have framed their critiques by denouncing the corruption of pure or pristine doctrines. Indeed, on one view, Buddhism itself grew out of a deep dissatisfaction with the corruption and increasingly complex nature of Hinduism, not entirely unlike the early Protestants who attacked the corruption of the Roman Catholic Church and called for a return to simpler ancient doctrines. Often these critiques point to the effects of wealth and luxury on the purity of religious doctrines and practices, and moral standards more generally: echoing civic republican themes, the fourteenth-century Islamic scholar Ibn Khaldun bluntly asserted that "luxury corrupts morals" (pp. 131132).

The biblical account of the Fall is perhaps the paradigmatic corruption metanarrative, with its account of a lost, originally virtuous, condition and the ongoing struggle for redemption. But other religious traditions draw on the images of corruption as well: according to the Buddhist Milindapañha "[t]he virtuous and well-conducted man is like a medicine in destroying the poison of human corruption; is like a healing herb in quieting the disease of human corruption; is like water in removing the dirt and defilement of human corruption" (ch. 5, sec. 98). The virtue here described is, of course, not social republican virtue, but rather a specifically religious understanding of what is required to stave off the corruption that can grow from within.

Finally, we should note the classical tradition that utilizes the terms "generation and corruption" in reference to the body and things subject to growth and decay in the physical realm. Plato (c. 428348 or 347 b.c.e.) describes philosophers as those who love eternal verities "not varying from generation and corruption," and regards gymnastic, given its emphasis on the body, as "having to do with generation and corruption" (Republic 485b, 521e). Indeed, Aristotle (384322 b.c.e.) announces in the first sentence of his On Generation and Corruption, that his task is "to study coming-to-be and passing-away." Later, Augustine (354430) brought a Christian view of the immortal soul to this classical understanding, describing the "soul pressed down by the corruptible body, and weighed down by earthly thoughts, many and various" (De Trinitate, 8.2).


How might we explain the widespread appeal of discourses on corruption? The truth likely remains somewhere deep within the individual and collective dynamics by which people attempt to come to grips with change in their lives, and to construct a meaningful narrative connection between past, present, and future. The power of corruption rhetoric seems to lie in its recognition of the inherent fragility of all human endeavorindeed, of human bodies. Talking in terms of corruption, for civic republicans, often makes sense of a host of social changes by placing them into a coherent, purposive, and meaningful frame of reference, highlighting past glories, and spurring audiences on to greater things in the future. Corruption accounts, like all political speech, are inherently partial and moralistic, but they are also extremely effective in pointing to the price paid for progress, be it technological, political, or economic. When Adam Smith (17231790) boasted, in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776) that the poorest English laborer lives in material comfort undreamed of by an African king, Rousseau was there to ask about the price paid for this economic "progress," using the language of corruption to frame and reinforce his critique.

But is corruption, however variously defined, always to be lamented? A few scholars have ventured the hypothesis that corruption is necessary, though indeed not sufficient, for such tasks as the smooth operation of an economy. Business practices routinely denounced as "corrupt" may serve a variety of extremely important social and economic functions. Such a view, overtly or not, hearkens back to Bernard Mandeville's (16701733) famous dictum that private vices yield public benefits.

See also Constitutionalism ; Humanism ; Poverty ; Republicanism ; Virtue Ethics ; Wealth .


Dobel, J. Patrick. "Corruption of a State." American Political Science Review 72 (1978): 958973.

Heidenheimer, A. J., ed. Political Corruption: Readings in Comparative Analysis. New York: Holt, Reinhart, and Winston, 1970.

Heywood, Paul, ed. Political Corruption. Oxford: Blackwell, 1997.

Khaldun, Ibn. An Arab Philosophy of History: Selections from the Prolegomena of Ibn Khaldun of Tunis. Translated and arranged by Charles Issawi. London: Murray, 1950.

Nye, Joseph S. "Corruption and Political Development: A Cost-Benefit Analysis." American Political Science Review 61 (1967): 417-427.

Pocock, J. G. A. The Machiavellian Moment : Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975.

Rose-Ackerman, Susan. Corruption: A Study in Political Economy. New York: Academic Press, 1978.

. Corruption and Government: Causes, Consequences, and Reform. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 17761789. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1969.

Andrew R. Murphy


views updated May 29 2018







Corruption has been a part of human societies since the oldest of times. Corruption, fraud, embezzlement, theft, bribes, and kickbacks are all forms in which people try to increase their income at the cost of others. Beginning in the latter half of the 1990s, an increased recognition of these costs led to many international and nongovernmental organizations demanding that political and business leaders demonstrate high standards of honesty, ethics, and social responsibility. This in turn led to a concerted fight against corruption, money laundering, and black markets around the world as well as to the recognition of the importance of governance.


Although disagreements abound, corruption is most frequently defined as the misuse of public power for personal gains. Corruption, unlike fraud and embezzlement, refers to decisions that politicians and public bureaucrats (public officials for ease of exposition) make based on authority delegated to them by the populace. When these decisions are motivated by personal gains rather than by the publics interest, other than politicians favoring segments of the population they represent, this is considered corruption. One of the difficulties of identifying corruption is that these self-serving decisions can often be disguised as good public policy.

Corruption exists in two broad formsalthough there are many variations within these two categories and often the two will be intertwined with each other. Administrative, or petty, corruption refers to acts of bribery, kickbacks, or grease money, in which public officials extract a payment for implementing an existing decision. In its purest form this type of corruption is an attempt to redistribute rents or profits associated with a decision. When officials accept a bribe for favoring a particular contractor for a public construction project, they are asking the contractor to share profits associated with the contract with them. The main consequence of such an act of corruption is the redistribution of income that in turn will have some influence on resource allocation.

Political, or grand, corruption or state capture occurs when political leaders either allocate national budgets or introduce legislation to facilitate projects from which either they themselves or their close associates will benefit. In almost all cases of political corruption the public would not have made the same decision as the political elite if it were in a position to make that decision. The corrupt elites profits come either in the form of bribes or from direct stakes in the projects that benefit from the decisions. Examples of corrupt politicians accepting bribes exist in almost every countryindustrialized or developing. Also, examples of dictators who have managed to enrich themselves while impoverishing their countries abound: Haiti under François Duvalier (1907-1971), Philippines under Ferdinand Edralin Marcos (1917-1989), Zaire under Mobutu Sese Seko (1930-1997), Nigeria under Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), and Uganda under Idi Amin (c. 1925-2003) are just some of the examples. Political corruption leads to the misallocation of a countrys economic resources while redistributing income within that country.

Corruption is difficult to measure, but it exists in all countries. In countries where corruption is not endemic, corrupt acts are carried out under secrecy. In countries where corruption is widespread, corrupt incomes take so many forms that measurement becomes meaningless. The most consistent attempt to measure corruption has been carried out by Transparency International (TI), a Berlinbased nongovernmental organization (NGO). Every year TI surveys business people and experts, and based on their perceptions it provides a rating between 10 (no corruption) and 1 (most corrupt). Of the 158 countries ranked in 2005, Iceland, Finland, and New Zealand were the least corrupt and Turkmenistan, Bangladesh, and Chad were the most corrupt.


To understand why corruption exists, it helps to examine why there is less corruption in someusually industrial-izedcountries. One can start by recognizing that authority over public-sector budgets and regulatory frameworks comes with the potential for huge personal benefits. Assuming that only a small percentage of a population is pathologically honest, most public officials will be tempted to take advantage of their authority. Their gains, however, come at someone elses cost. Therefore, those who may lose from corruption want to control and check the powers of public officials. These checks come in the form of well-developed legal, political, and social institutions within the society. As such, the existence or absence of corruption depends on the balance between the powers of public officials against the strengths of institutions and control mechanisms that empower the public.

All countries have laws against corruption. Selection and retention of public officials, at least in democratic societies, will depend on the public officials demonstrating honest behavior. Democratic institutions that allow a fair and wide participation of the public in the selection of public officials create a barrier against the spread of corruption. Offending officials will be identified and punished by the judicial system or at least not reappointed to their positions. A free press accompanied by an independent and honest judiciary forms another barrier that prevents corruption. Institutions and a variety of organizations that represent specific interest groups in a given society will exert influence on public officials if corruption is likely to harm that society. In so far as politicians derive their authority and appointment from their constituencies, these institutions form another line of defense against corruption. Once in power, however, public officials will have means to render these control mechanisms less effective. A dictator usually succeeds in rendering them completely ineffective; hence, dictatorial regimes are often more corrupt than democratic ones. Democratic leaders are restricted by the strengths of the institutions in a society that constrains behavior of public officials.

Thus, institutions that play an important role in controlling corruption include a free press, an independent judiciary, and a free and democratic political system that gives full voice to the populace in the political process. Research clearly establishes that the absence of corruption within countries correlates with the level of development of these institutions. It is noteworthy that ideology does not seem to play a role in the extent of corruption. Daniel Kaufmann divided countries into leftist and non leftist regimes (1998, p. 140). The correlation between the extent of corruption and the type of regime was zero.


Corruptionwhich is an important component of what is now called governanceis extremely inimical to economic growth and development (Jain 2001). It leads to misallocation of resources, distorts labor markets, discourages investments, and alters income distribution. The myth that corruption helps markets by greasing the wheels of commerce has been proven false. While it is true that a bribe may speed up one transaction, it creates incentives for more and higher bribes in previously bribe-free activities. In a remarkable study of bribery, Robert Wade (1985) shows that once bribes are introduced, bureaucracies redirect their attention from providing services to the public to maximizing bureaucrats illicit incomes.

The most damaging consequence of corruption may be in how it inhibits investment in the economy. Research clearly establishes that countries with high corruption have lower levels of investment and economic growth (World Bank 2001). Corruption, which usually exists in an environment of poor overall governance, makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to invest by increasing the cost of starting a business venture. After investments have been made, corruption creates uncertainty for entrepreneurs because the public officials have an option to extract bribes from the venture should it prove profitable. This option increases entrepreneurs risks and lowers their returns.

Corruption also distorts the selection of public-sector projects. Small maintenance projects are more effective in terms of their output, but corrupt officials do not like to spend money on smaller projects because they may be carried out by a larger number of contractors, making it more difficult to extract bribes. Thus, corruption biases investment expenditures from high-output to low-output projects. Construction of roads that go nowhere, bridges that no one crosses, and unused shells of school buildings that abound in the developing world may have been motivated by bribes, not the needs of the society. In addition, if measured by the extent of bribes as a percent of revenue of a firm, corruption affects small firms more than big ones. Because innovative activities in most economies tend to be taken up by small entrepreneurs, corruption stifles an important source of economic growth. Corruption also discriminates against foreign direct investment because dealing with corrupt officials requires familiarity, which is an advantage that domestic firms may possess.

Corruption affects the labor market by distorting returns for various activities. It distorts the allocation of talent between power-seeking activities and other productive activities in an economy. Furthermore, as noted earlier, corruption discourages the allocation of talent to entrepreneurial activities by lowering rewards and increasing risks.

Corruption does not affect all members of a society equally. The poor suffer relatively more from corruption in two ways. First, bribe payments may represent a higher percentage of their income than similar payments by the rich. In this sense, corruption acts as a regressive taxlower-income households carry a larger burden than higher-income ones. Second, corruption causes the delivery of public services, for example, health care and education, to deteriorate. Such a deterioration affects the poor more than the rich first, because they may have to pay a bribe to receive the services and second, because they depend more on such services. Corruption may also allow the rich to pay fewer taxes than required by law. This lowers the revenues of the state, further deteriorating the ability of the state to provide services for the poor. Studies confirm that corruption causes income distribution to worsen.


Recognizing that corruption is a serious obstacle to fighting poverty, many international and nongovernmental organizations since the latter half of the 1990s have been leading the fight to reduce corruption around the world. This fight focuses on three areas: civil societies in which the public plays a key role, a top-down commitment from the political leadership to fight corruption, and a proactive private sector that accepts its social responsibility to operate in a corruption-free manner. Countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development have accepted their responsibility in this fight by passing antibribery laws that prohibit their firms from paying bribes in other countries. These laws, however, are rarely strictly enforced.

It is difficult to assess the impact of global efforts to fight corruption. Stories of success tend to be anecdotal. If the ratings of TI are any indication, it will take several years before this fight has a significant impact on the extent of corruption around the world.

SEE ALSO Accountability; Bribery; Capital Flight; Hot Money; Money Laundering; Transparency


Jain, Arvind K. 2001. Corruption: A Review. Journal of Economic Surveys 15 (1): 71-121.

Kaufmann, Daniel. 1998. Research on Corruption: Critical Empirical Issues. In Economics of Corruption. Ed. Arvind K. Jain. Boston: Kluwer Academic.

Transparency International. 2005. Corruption Perceptions Index 2005. Transparency International.

Wade, Robert. 1985. The Market for Public Office: Why the Indian State Is Not Better at Development. World Development 13 (4): 467497.

World Bank. 2001. Governance and Corruption. World Bank Group.

Arvind K. Jain


views updated May 23 2018


Corruption derives from the Latin verb corrumpere, which means to break into pieces, destroy, defraud, falsify, seduce, or bribe. But the meanings hardly end with those. They are merely one set of a procession of definitions and interpretations amassed over the centuries, all signifying some contagiously harmful, unjust, self-serving, often repulsive divergence from moral conduct.


Corruption defies and defiles what is generally perceived as the common good. In its malevolent extreme—such as systematic and widespread murder, torture, rape, or pillage, undertaken to maximize power—corruption can attain the dimensions of evil. At the lesser extreme, acts such as bribery, embezzlement, plagiarism, or falsifying research data, when done on a small scale and episodically, can be seen as unethical, immoral, or deranged, though not necessarily corrupt. Scope can often define corruption.

Science has its own literal definitions of corruption. Data are sometimes called corrupted. In biology, corruption is the process of living matter's decomposition. Similarly, a spoiled laboratory sample can likewise be described as having been corrupted. Terms such as rot, putrescence, and decay all serve well as descriptives for the revulsion corruption can generate. Corruption covers a multitude of sins and therefore has an almost limitless repertoire of baleful synonyms and colorful case examples.

Scholarship on corruption in science is rare, in technology (e.g., patent piracy, computer hacking) increasingly frequent. But scholarly work on corruption in governments, wherever they may be, is abundant. The challenge in the science and technology sector is to connect the hidden motivations and behavior patterns of those in the technical world to that of the political and economic spheres so that technical professionals can play stronger roles in perceiving their own relevance in stemming corruption's incessant growth.

Organizational Approaches

A handful of organizations with ambitious programs to understand and prevent corruption have attempted to establish satisfactory definitions of corruption. The World Bank, which in 1999 launched a vigorous anti-corruption program, defines corruption as "the abuse of a public position for private gain." Transparency International, long the leading body in tracking and studying corruption, defines it as "behaviour on the part of officials in the public sector, whether politicians or civil servants, in which they improperly and unlawfully enrich themselves, or those close to them, by the misuse of the power entrusted to them." Because of the global trend toward the privatization of public functions, it extends that definition to abuses in the private sector.

A third body, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), shuns any attempt to define corruption but has undertaken considerable work in gathering statistics, convening conferences, and issuing reports on such subjects as bribery, export credits, corruption in individual countries, and corruption's impact on development.

Any generalized treatment of corruption that is less than criminal or evil can entail considerable subjective judgment, thus inviting both a self-critical eye and rhetorical reflection. Often the word is used loosely in tirades against political opponents, such as a "corrupt" policy by one political party or another involving the environment, the elderly, or illicit campaign tactics. Charges of corruption can be flung when scientists rally against the packing of technical panels by a government whose political party they oppose. In the brutal give and take of politics, judgments about corruption's severity and perhaps its very existence are best done with care, case by case, even item by item, with emotions held in tow.

The Situation within Science, Engineering, and Technology

Science, engineering, and technology—technology being the useful products of engineering—are themselves fertile soils for corruption. Under the thrust of technological change, they can serve as tools (genetic engineering, virology, the computer, and digital communications as examples) to expand the range of corruption's infectivity. Thus, right at the start, the technical world can be mired within conflicting goals when business, engineering, and science comingle. Not only that, but history displays the macabre paradox of science and engineering specifically employed for evil means such as the freezing of human beings by Nazi scientists to study the process of death and the feasibility of resuscitation, or the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study (1932–1972) on prison inmates in Tuskegee, Alabama, as well as the radiation experiments performed on unwitting human subjects by the Atomic Energy Commission from 1944 to 1974. Further, it could easily be argued that weak implementation of occupational safety and health laws leading to worker deaths is also a form of corruption of the public good.

The values of science, which derive from philosophical and moral thought, are their own protection against any infestation of corruption. The inner character of science contains the ethical outcome of improving the lot of humankind and adhering to a strict code that imposes integrity on its practitioners. For years, the scientific community has striven to reduce the incidence of data falsification, arguing that the act of falsification erodes the honesty and openness that feeds scientific progress. Thus, science contains within itself a moral value all scientists are trained to revere. But, like other human beings, scientists can cheat, lie, and steal. The question is whether one chooses to call such flaws corruption—whether to expand the definition of corruption to include the corruption of values. At this moment in the sociology and psychology of science, divergent behavior in the technical fields rests in the discipline of ethics, broad enough in itself.

Thus, the tracking and policing of unethical behavior among technical professionals has been left to science and engineering societies, journals devoted to science/society issues and to the field of misconduct and malpractice, inspectors general for the technical agencies of government, the agencies themselves (through, for example, the Office of Research Integrity at the National Institutes of Health), and science and engineering workplaces. Corruption involving science and technology, however, does come in for significant treatment in the corruption literature because the capital transferred for development projects that involve science and engineering is often skimmed for payoffs at either the contractor or government level. Thus it is clear that those within the science and engineering community whose work engages them in development projects have a stake in corruption at the level of the Third World. Whistleblowing is one major response by technical people to perceived violations of ethical practice among their higher-ups. Unfortunately, whistle-blowers are too infrequently rewarded—and often punished—for acting on their sense of outrage.

How corruption can be differentiated from immorality is an open question. If a lie is immoral, then scientific fraud—whether by plagiarizing texts or falsifying data—is immoral as well. But whether it is corruption is more a question of philosophy than practicality. Often-times, examples of fudging laboratory work for neater results might well be seen as advancing the cause of a research project. If the loss of research support for a worthy program, for example, is threatened by a bit of discrepant data, then the researcher might consider "tidying up" the results for the sake of saving the grant.

Trends and Outlook

Where corruption in science and engineering perhaps bears most watching is in the relatively recent marriage between corporations and universities in conducting genetic engineering research. The field itself has long presented ethical and moral dilemmas, but the risk of corruption increases in the high intellectual property stakes involved in genetic discoveries. The fear is that academic and intellectual freedom has been "corrupted" when scientists working under the support of the corporation deliberately withhold data from colleagues at competing institutions. These practices have taken place to a disturbing extent with no final consensus in view.

Corruption will always be present within the human realm. The war on it in the developing world has become vigorous and is showing success. Evidence shows that as those countries democratize and generate more internal wealth, corruption will decrease. At the same time, however, the growth of new scientific and technological tools will render corruption increasingly creative and sophisticated. The incursion into personal privacy through sensor technology applied to "protect democracy" can be seen as chilling enough. The challenge, then, is to anticipate what new forms of infectious malfeasance loom as the science behind biotechnology and nanotechnology, and the digital instruments of technology generate new ways of doing harm.


SEE ALSO Development Ethics;Engineering Ethics;Ethics: Overview;Office of Research Integrity;Tuskegee Experiment;Whistleblowing.


Caiden, Gerald E. (1988). "Toward a General Theory of Official Corruption." Asian Journal of Public Administration 10(1): 3–26.

Krimsky, Sheldon. (2003). Science in the Private Interest: Has the Lure of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research? Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Rose-Ackerman, Susan. (1999). Corruption and Government: Causes, Consequences, and Reform. New York: Cambridge University Press.


Transparency International. Available from


views updated Jun 11 2018


The Rise and Fall of Bernie Kerik

In November 2007, federal prosecutors unsealed an indictment against former New York City police commissioner Bernard B. “Bernie” Kerik, charging him with 16 counts of corruption, mail fraud , tax fraud , obstruction of justice, and lying to the government. The charges against Kerik carried a maximum sentence of 142 years and more than $5 million in fines.

Bernie Kerik became a household name as a onetime close aide to Republican presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani; both men became national heroes for their leadership during the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York City, when Kerik was serving as police commissioner under then-Mayor Giuliani. Kerik was also nominated to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush. In 2003, Kerik was appointed by the Pentagon to serve as interim minister of the interior in Iraq, under the Coalition Provisional Authority set up by the U.S. Department of Defense to run Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The 30-page indictment charged, among other things, that within months of Kerik's appointment by Giuliani as New York City's prisons commissioner, he was already accepting payments from a New Jersey company eager to earn lucrative contracts with the city. The company, not identified in the indictment, allegedly provided $250,000 in marble bathrooms, a whirlpool tub, and a grand marble rotunda in Kerik's Bronx apartment. That same company was under investigation for ties to organized crime at the time. In exchange, Kerik set up meetings with city officials as recently as 2005 to vouch for the company's reputation and help it get city contracts. The indictment further alleged that both Kerik and the company concealed their relationship.

The indictment charged Kerik with “selling his office” for hundreds of thousands of dollars when he was prisons commissioner and police commissioner, then lying to cover up the schemes. Eight unnamed and un-indicted co-conspirators were alluded to in the charges, including the owners of the contracting company, an Israeli industrialist, and a Brooklyn businessman whose loan was repaid in 2005. Investigators later obtained e-mails and recorded hundreds of hours of phone calls to which Kerik was a party, among other things, capturing his complaints about feeling like he was living on “welfare” compared with the contractors who were pushing money to him.

Significantly, the indictment further charged that over a six-year period, Kerik failed to report $500,000 in income to the Internal Revenue Service, and falsely claimed several thousands of dollars in tax deductions. He was charged with coaxing witnesses to lie to investigators about payments he received and with providing false information to a state grand jury that was investigating similar charges.

Kerik's initial fall from grace occurred after President Bush nominated him to succeed Tom Ridge as Secretary of Homeland Security. During the vetting process, Kerik insisted that while completing documents required for Senate confirmation, he discovered that he had not paid required employer taxes for his nanny. Upon then discovering that the nanny, an illegal alien, was using a friend's social security number, he notified the White House that he needed to withdraw from consideration. Although President Bush expressed great disappointment to media reporters the following day, an avalanche of damaging tabloid and mainstream stories flooded the news media. Most linked Kerik to organized crime or accused him of misusing an apartment at Ground Zero (the site of the 2001 New York attack). Kerik insisted that the media had distorted his past, and told ABC News that he did not regret being nominated, in fact, it “was the greatest honor of [his] lifetime.”

Even as late as May 2008, more criticism or negative media coverage followed Kerik. In May, Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, the top U.S. military leader in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004, referred to Kerik's role and work there as “a waste of time and effort.” Kerik was ostensibly responsible for training Iraqi police while there, but Sanchez told the New York Daily News that Kerik spent more time on “conducting raids and liberating prostitutes.” Sanchez also told reporters that when Kerik left Iraq, Sanchez checked the Interior Ministry's inventory and was “shocked” to discover that the only thing on the books were 50,000 Glock pistols.

Born to an alcoholic prostitute, Kerik dropped out of high school but rose above his peers as a decorated New York policeman and later police commissioner under his mentor, Guiliani. After both of them led the city through the September 11, 2001 crisis, he and Guiliani retired to form a prestigious consulting firm together.

Kerik, 52, pleaded not guilty at his court arraignment and vowed to fight the charges. He was released on a $500,000 bond after surrendering his passport and personal firearms. In January 2008, the district court disqualified Kerik's longtime personal attorney, Kenneth Breen, citing conflict of interest because Breen might be called as an adverse witness in the trial against Kerik. Meanwhile, in June 2008, two brothers were charged with perjury for providing Kerik free apartment renovations in return for favorable treatment/approval before local governmental regulatory authorities, and then lying about the transactions. The renovations were at the heart of the federal case against Kerik. In 2006, Kerik pleaded guilty to state misdemeanor charges for accepting those renovations between 1998 and 2000 (when he was the city's corrections commissioner), and for failing to report a $28,000 loan to him.


views updated Jun 11 2018


Corruption in the broadest sense involves immoral or illegal activity, but the term frequently refers to political corruption, or the abuse of public office for private gain. Political corruption takes many forms, including the acceptance of bribes in exchange for favors that violate government procedures, the refusal to perform one's governmental duties without an extralegal payment, and the misappropriation of public funds. Corrupt exchanges range from small bribes to larger kickback schemes, in which government officials responsible for assigning public works contracts receive a percentage of the value of the contract from the firm receiving that contract and, at times, to even larger embezzlement efforts.

Political corruption has a long history in Latin America and beyond. When Spanish and Portuguese colonizers established mercantilist restrictions on commerce, some businesspeople bribed colonial officials to avoid punishment for using internal trade routes not authorized by the crown and for trading outside the colonial empire. Both before and after Latin American countries gained independence, propertied citizens sometimes offered bribes in pursuit of favorable government decisions to acquire title to land or to avoid paying taxes. The emergence of electoral politics after independence paved the way for vote-buying as an additional form of corruption; many Latin American political parties gained a reputation for buying votes with public funds.

As public revenues and government activity expanded over the course of the twentieth century, the potential for larger corrupt exchanges also grew. In Cuba and elsewhere, government officials allegedly used the lottery to funnel public money to themselves, their relatives, and their supporters. Higher levels of taxation on income, sales, and property tempted more citizens to pay bribes if and when they were caught evading taxes. The expansion of public works projects increased the opportunities for kickback schemes involving contracts for public buildings and transportation links; to cite two examples from the 1950s, the elected government of Juscelino Kubitschek in Brazil and the dictatorship of Marcos Pérez Jiménez in Venezuela faced widespread allegations of corruption in the awarding of public contracts. Throughout Latin America, many people spoke of an embedded culture of corruption and of a circle of impunity in which the executive, legislative, and judicial branches often protected one another from prosecution.

Whereas corruption occurs in both authoritarian and democratic settings, democratization from the 1980s through the early twenty-first century began to change the dynamics of political corruption in Latin America. Corruption scandals contributed to the premature end of several chief executives' mandates between 1992 and 2001, including Fernando Collor de Mello in Brazil, Carlos Andrés Pérez in Venezuela, Jamil Mahuad in Ecuador, Alberto Fujimori in Peru, and Fernando de la Rúa in Argentina. Past presidents faced formal corruption investigations during the years 1993 into 2007 in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela. Contemporary anticorruption efforts include the creation of new government auditing agencies, the expansion of legislative oversight, the growth of investigative journalism, and the rise of nongovernmental watchdog groups such as Citizen Power (Poder Ciudadano) in Argentina, the Civic Alliance (Alianza Cívica) in Mexico, and a regional network of Transparency International chapters. These developments raise the question: Will the twenty-first century witness a decrease in corruption in Latin America?

See alsoNarcotráfrico.


Johnston, Michael. Syndromes of Corruption: Wealth, Power, and Democracy. Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Peruzzotti, Enrique, and Catalina Smulovitz, eds. Controlando la política: Ciudadanos y medios en las nuevas democracias latinoamericanas. Buenos Aires: Temas, 2002.

Tulchin, Joseph S., and Ralph H. Espach, eds. Combating Corruption in Latin America. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2000.

                                      Charles H. Blake


views updated Jun 08 2018

cor·rup·tion / kəˈrəpshən/ • n. 1. dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery. ∎  the action of making someone or something morally depraved or the state of being so: the word “addict” conjures up evil and corruption. ∎ archaic decay; putrefaction.2. the process by which something, typically a word or expression, is changed from its original use or meaning to one that is regarded as erroneous or debased. ∎  the process of causing errors to appear in a computer program or database.


views updated May 23 2018

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