Transparency International ranks the most corrupt countries in the world. These are countries where a small number of people control all of the wealth. Where money can buy justice — or injustice. But they’re not all dictatorships. In fact, some of the countries on this list are pretty surprising.
Mexico is a beautiful country with tempting beaches and welcoming people. Unfortunately, it also has a history of repression. Many layers of government and law enforcement have been infiltrated by organized crime over the decades. The result, sadly, is one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
The Maldives is a bucket list destination in the Indian Ocean. It’s a string of islands with breathtaking resorts that seem to pop right out of the sea itself.
Unfortunately, recent political scandals have raised questions about government officials personally profiting off of illegal hotel deals.
Myanmar is a beautiful country in Southeast Asia, a land of coastal deltas, highlands, and ancient ruins. Unfortunately, it also has a history of military rule that it has struggled to overcome. Bribery is commonplace here. You may wonder how it is that underpaid officials all seem to have the newest iPhones.
Laos is another beautiful Southeast Asian country. Landlocked and mountainous, Laos has yet to be discovered by tourists in a major way.
Unfortunately, Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries in the region. As one politician there put it: “Some state workers take money from the government budget, split it among themselves, then deposit it into their own bank accounts. In other words, they pocket the money.”
It’s really a wonder Mali doesn’t rank higher on the list of most corrupt countries.
This landlocked North African nation has been struggling to fight terrorism for years. The few visitors who make it here complain of rampant corruption, high crime, and random police checkpoints.
Togo is a small country in West Africa, next door to Ghana. It’s a good option if you want to visit the region, with reliable infrastructure and white sandy beaches.
Corruption remains an issue, however. Bribes are common practice — not just when dealing with the police, but in schools, in hospitals, and in the private sector.
Uganda is a natural gem in East Africa. It is famous for its authenticity, gorillas, and chimpanzees. However, it is also noted for its corruption. The courts, the police, and the government in general are all known to take bribes. If you wanted to start a business in Uganda, you would need plenty of cash and brown paper bags.
Mauritania is right next to Mali in North Africa. It is basically off-limits to tourists due to high crime, lawlessness, and terror groups.
In 2019, a famous activist was arrested for exposing a scam involving the president’s son, in which thousands of poor people lost their homes. Mauritania may be democratic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not among the most corrupt countries.
Kenya is a fast developing country in East Africa, one of the most prosperous in the region. However, there is also serious wealth inequality and corruption. Many Kenyans report paying bribes to officials to “get things done.” In 2011, the country disbanded its anti-corruption task force.
Lebanon is a small but beautiful country, bordering Syria and the Mediterranean. Its most famous city is its cosmopolitan capital, Beirut. However, political instability has created a country where corruption is not only tolerated, but expected and encouraged.
Russia is the largest country in the world. The possibilities here are immense; from the palaces of St. Petersburg to the vast emptiness of Siberia, there’s so much to see.
Unfortunately, Russia remains a deeply corrupt country. It’s a dictatorship in all but name. Russia’s natural resources are controlled by a small number of oligarchs who act more like a mafia than business leaders.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is rumored to be the richest man in the world. And yet his official salary is about $130,000 US. Curious.
39. Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is an island nation north of Australia. It is noted for its diversity — with a population that speaks more than 800 languages! However, it’s also one of the most corrupt countries in the region.
The Economist described the problem this way. “PNG’s governments are notorious for corruption, and ever run the risk of turning the state into a fully-fledged kleptocracy.”
It is common for people to give ‘gifts’ to the police to make crimes ‘go away.’
Although this South American country finds itself among the most corrupt country, it’s actually an improvement. In 2004, Paraguay was in the top 10. Some of its Supreme Court justices even had to be removed for corruption. These days, things are headed in the right direction at least.
37. Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is a favored resort destination for North American tourists. However, things are not so rosy for those who live here.
As one analyst describes: “Over the past fifteen years, the Dominican Republic has become the ideal place for domestic and transnational criminals to operate with impunity. … Every ten minutes a robbery takes place in the Dominican Republic.”
The government is powerless to stop this — or chooses not to. Hard to say which.
Liberia is a West African nation founded by freed slaves from the United States. The country is still recovering from a civil war that lasted from 1989-2004. However, corruption is the new enemy. Bribery is endemic in Liberia. In fact, there’s not even a specific law against it.
Angola is a country in Central Africa, with a long Atlantic coastline. Despite a tragic history of violence, Angolans remain upbeat. Music is everywhere here, and a sense of celebration.
Unfortunately, corruption is just as rampant. Angola has vast natural resources. Instead of this wealth passing to the people, the authoritarian government has taken control. There is ‘significant overlap’ between business and politics here. In other words, politicians enriching themselves.
The result is one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
Mozambique is on the opposite side of the continent from Angola, with a coast on the Indian Ocean. This coastline draws divers and fishermen from all over.
Less appealing is the white collar crime. Three senior government officials were recently charged with defrauding investors and enriching themselves to the tune of $2 billion. And that’s just one example.
Nigeria is the most populous and wealthiest country in Africa. However, a recent analysis concluded the country has lost $400 billion to corruption since 1966. That easily makes it one of the most corrupt countries.
In Bangladesh, the corruption comes not from business but from government. Officials have repeatedly been caught taking huge cash bribes. Others have been forced to resign for using their offices to enrich themselves and their friends.
Guatemala is a small Central American country, just south of Mexico. A UN Commission was sent to study the corruption here. The result they reported was that Guatemala had been “captured” by “mafia” style corruption. The former president shut the commission down for investigating his friends.
For tourists, it’s not uncommon to have to bribe your way out of trouble. Police have been known to target tourists for imaginary crimes.
Honduras is just southeast of Guatemala. Although violence has declined slightly, crime is still rampant in Honduras. So much so that the U.S. State Department advises travelers against visiting. Theft and more serious crimes are commonplace, and the police can’t or won’t deal with it.
Politicians of all stripes in Iran complain about corruption. And yet, somehow, nothing ever changes. The president’s brother, for example, was recently caught up in a huge bribery scandal. The disparity between the super-rich and the super-poor is very stark here.
Tajikistan is a landlocked and mountainous country in Central Asia. Like many former Soviet Republics, it has struggled against lawlessness and corruption.
Even traffic cops in Tajikistan will solicit bribes. The cops are so unreliable here that you really can’t count on them if you get into trouble. Some even suspect the cops of collaborating with criminals. Yikes.
Uzbekistan is right next door to Tajikistan. Sadly, it shares a reputation as one of the most corrupt countries. Despite its enormous natural wealth, the people here are mostly poor. Uzbekistan has basically been a dictatorship since 1991. It’s a police state. But one where the police take bribes. However, if you visit, the cops won’t likely trouble you.
26. Central African Republic
Again, it’s a wonder the CAR doesn’t land higher on the list of most corrupt countries. Basically every Western government advises against traveling here. Large swaths of the country are dominated by local warlords. Robberies, kidnappings, and worse are commonplace. In many places, the government doesn’t really exist.
Cameroon is a diverse West African nation. It features English and French-speaking regions, Christians and Muslims. However, it also features tons of corruption. The country has taken some steps to clean things up. They even prosecuted a former Prime Minister for embezzelment.
24. The Comoros
The Comoros is an island nation in the Indian Ocean. There have been more than 20 coups here since 1975. In a country with fewer than 1 million people, that creates a ton of chaos.
Zimbabwe was long in the grip of Robert Mugabe. The result was massive inflation and unemployment. Things have improved somewhat in recent years. But there are still concerns about officials enriching themselves.
Madagascar is a beautiful island nation off the east coast of Africa. Unfortunately, political instability has made it a haven of corruption. Smugglers and politicians can be hard to tell apart.
Eritrea is a small African nation on the Red Sea. It has a reputation as one of the most corrupt countries on the continent. Sadly, that never used to be a concern here. But Eritrea is a dictatorship and police state. The government has clawed more and more power away from the people in the past decades. The result is mass corruption.
Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. Since 2018, there have been popular protests against the corruption of the government. Bribery is said to be commonplace. Worse, the president and his family have treated dissent as treason. But it’s hard to know just what is going on since the government controls the media.
What can we say? Iraq has been in a state of chaos for… forever, it seems. Citizens have no confidence in the government, and cronyism remains rampant. It’s a miracle Iraq isn’t even higher on the list.
With hard work, Chad has gone from the most corrupt country to… one of the most corrupt countries. Progress. This landlocked North African nation has recently discovered oil deposits. Sadly, the newfound wealth has only encouraged official theft.
Cambodia is the seat of the old Khmer Empire that gave the world Angkor Wat. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone so well since. Tourists visit Cambodia for its temples and beaches. But many people here live on less than $1 a day. Worse, they have to bribe officials to get the services they need.
Those who report corruption face 6 months in prison if their claims can’t be proven. In a corrupt legal system. Not good.
Turkmenistan is one of the most corrupt countries in Central Asia. It has been ruled by eccentric dictators since the fall of the Soviet Union. One of these used public funds to try to build an ice palace. In a desert country. That’s what true corruption looks like.
Not to be confused with the Demorcatic Republic of the Congo. This smaller country is largely urban. The rest is a vast jungle.
The president here is really more like a dictator. The result is that officials can take bribes with impunity. Police are known to practice extortion as well.
Burundi is a tiny landlocked country in East Africa. Like many of the other most corrupt countries, Burundi’s problems are complex. The main issue is that politicians are expected to reward their friends and cronies. They therefore use public resources to accomplish this. In other words… straight-up nepotism and bribery.
13. Guinea Bissau
Guinea Bissau is one of the most corrupt countries and one of the poorest. It’s located in West Africa. In recent years, South American cartels have used it as a storage depot. Their illicit products are then shipped from Guinea Bissau to Europe. This requires police and politicians to look the other way. For which, reportedly, they are well paid.
Libya is another one that should probably rank higher. Since the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011, the country has been in utter chaos. It’s not clear who works for the government and who works for themselves. In some cases, it’s both.
There are are reports of naval officers being paid to stop migrants crossing to Europe. They then turn around and get paid by the migrants to let them pass. Futility and corruption.
11. Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo is rich in natural resources. So why are its people poor?
From 1965-1997, the country was known as Zaire. In those years, President Mobutu stole billions of dollars from his poor country. Corruption here has since declined. But it still remains among the worst in the world.
Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country. Hurricanes, political instability, and organized crime have helped make it one of the most corrupt too. While a quarter of the people live in poverty, corruption runs wild. In recent years there have been massive protests on this subject. Things have improved slightly. But not nearly enough.
9. North Korea
What country could be more corrupt? The government controls everything. Literally, everything. Down to what haircuts you’re allowed to get. Their large, damp leader also completely controls the economy. Dissent is not allowed. So… you know… we don’t know how North Korea isn’t #1.
When the government doesn’t control most of the country, it’s not really a government. The result is one of the most corrupt countries ever. Among the many scandals, one stands out. It involved the Kabul Bank making almost $1 billion in illegal loans to family and friends of the former president.
Sudan is one of Africa’s most unstable countries. It has faced almost half a century of civil war. Citizens find themselves having to pay steep bribes just to access basic services.
6. Equatorial Guinea
Equatorial Guinea has been described as a perfect kleptocracy. That is, a country where the main function of the government is to steal from the people. This African nation is rich in oil reserves. Its GDP per capita is comparable to Spain. However, most people live in poverty. All that wealth is concentrated in a very few hands.
Venezuela has been in a state of panic for years now. The discovery of oil encouraged the government to spend lavishly. When oil prices dropped, Venezuela was ruined. The government is authoritarian, violence is prevalent, and 75% of Venezuelans
Yemen as an independent country basically doesn’t exist. It’s been pummelled into the dust by Saudi Arabia and friends in recent years. It’s no wonder crime and corruption have taken hold.
Syria, similarly, has been torn apart by civil war for years. ISIS, the government, rebels, Kurds, the United States, Russia… All these factions have converged on Syria. But even beforehand, the government was a corrupt dictatorship. The Assad family virtually owns the country, controlling vast industries.
2. South Sudan
South Sudan has only been independent since 2005. But in just 15 years, a group of elites have managed to take control of the entire economy. It’s another country that deserves to be called a kelptocracy.
Somalia is truly a tragic case. It has been without an effective government since 1991. Piracy has been rife. The country has been divided between rival warlords and factions. Meanwhile, the official government controls almost none of the country.