Political scandals in other countries

Tue, Jun 12, 2012, 01:00

GERMANY IS no stranger to big political scandals but, on the whole, day-to-day political life is marked by high ethical standards kept in check by robust rules and political peer pressure.

A vigilant court of public opinion means that even when official rules are not broken, misdeeds attract public outrage much stronger than any political brass neck.

A decade ago two politicians from the Green Party, in government at the time, were forced to resign after it emerged they had breached official guidelines by using air miles clocked up on official travel to pay for private flights.

Earlier this year German president Christian Wulff stood down after he was less than candid about a low-interest loan to buy a house from an industrialist friend.

At the moment Germany is in the thrall of a scandal dubbed the “flying carpet affair” involving the overseas aid minister Dirk Niebel. He bought an Afghan rug costing about €1,200 on a trip to Kabul.

Because he had already exceeded his baggage allowance for the flight home, Mr Niebel left the carpet in the German embassy. Later Mr Niebel asked the head of Germany’s BND secret service, a member of the ruling Free Democratic Party (FDP), to fly the carpet on a BND flight to Berlin.

On arrival the carpet bypassed customs and a duty payment of about €200 and was collected by Mr Niebel’s official driver.

The estimated cost of transporting the carpet with freight company DHL – nine square metres, weighing 30kg – would have been about €4,000. The secret service said it only agreed to transport the carpet after believing it was an official gift.

Mr Niebel may yet ride out the storm but, with little visible support from Chancellor Angela Merkel, he may yet ride his €1,200 flying carpet out of office. DEREK SCALLYin Berlin

MPs IN THEHouse of Commons have faced their own much-publicised difficulties regarding expenses and perjury in recent years, but no similar case to the Mick Wallace controversy can be found.

In its official records, the UK Revenue and Customs says it inquired into the affairs of 50 MPs in 2007, 46 in 2008 and 32 in 2009, while just 14 have faced questions from the taxman since. However, no public declarations have been made by the revenue about the outcome of those inquiries, although it says that the matters have been settled – although none of that can be taken to mean that arrears had to be paid.

There have been calls for British politicians to publish their tax affairs, although even some of those in favour of such a move accept it would not shed a full light into politicians’ affairs because it would not include assets. The expenses scandal claimed the careers of a significant number of MPs, but no action had to be taken by the House of Commons because most of the worst offenders did not stand for election in 2010 before inquiries were complete.

Labour MP Eric Illsley tried longer than most to hang on, only announcing that he was quitting after he was convicted of dishonestly claiming parliamentary expenses – a judgment that made him the first sitting MP to be convicted of fraud.

In the 1970s, the once high-flying Labour MP John Stonehouse, who had fled to Australia where he was captured by police – who thought for a moment that they had arrested Lord Lucan – faced trial for fraud, theft, forgery and conspiracy to defraud. Having been brought back from Australia in June 1975, he was remanded in prison until August and continued as an MP, despite Labour’s unhappiness, until he resigned the Labour whip.

On conviction, he finally resigned as an MP on August 28th, 1975. MARK HENNESSYin London

ON DECEMBER 2nd, 2010, the House of Representatives voted to censure Charles Rangel on 11 counts of ethics violations, making the then 80-year-old congressman and co-founder of the Black Caucus the first politician to be censured in 27 years and only the 23rd in US history.

Rangel was found guilty of submitting incomplete and inaccurate financial disclosure statements and of failing to pay income tax on the rental of a resort home in the Dominican Republic. He used his former position as head of the Ways and Means Committee – which sets tax rates for corporations – to solicit millions of dollars from corporate donors for the Charles B Rangel Centre for Public Service at the City College of New York. He also violated New York City regulations by using a rent-controlled apartment in Harlem as a campaign office.

The censure motion was preceded by more than 60 meetings of the House Ethics Committee, which examined 28,000 pages of documents. Rangel’s two-day “trial” by his peers took place in mid-November 2010. He had been forced to step down as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee the previous March, when it emerged that he had accepted corporate-financed trips to the Caribbean.

Rangel had consistently failed to report personal financial assets totalling between $239,000 and $831,000. After spending $2 million on lawyers, Rangel paid five years of back-taxes on the Dominican villa. The House Ethics Committee demanded more than a decade in back-taxes and interest.

His re-election campaign in 2010 argued that he was sloppy at paper work, but not a criminal. Now aged 82 and in his 21st congressional term, Rangel faces a tough challenge in New York’s June 26th primary election. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who endorsed him in previous elections, has declined to do so this time. LARA MARLOWEin Washington