List of former heads of democratic countries charged with crimes

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Jacob Zuma in court in 2019
Every dollar that a corrupt official or a corrupt business person puts in their pocket is a dollar stolen from a pregnant woman who needs health care; or from a girl or a boy who deserves an education; or from communities that need water, roads, and schools.
—Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, 2013.[1]
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It is not unprecedented for former democratically-elected national leaders to be charged and even convicted of crimes. In democracies, and even flawed democracies, this can be a good thing because it assures that two of the fundamental tenets of democracy — 1) rule of law and 2) transparency and accountability — applies to all citizens, not just the masses.[2] This is not the case in authoritarian or semi-authoritarian countries where the rule of law is inconsistently applied and where politically-motivated criminal investigations are more likely.[3][4] Democracies generally give some level of protection to heads of state and/or legislators while they are still in office to reduce the likelihood of politically-motivated investigations.[3]


Former president and current vice president of Argentina Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was found guilty of fraud during her tenure as president by a three-judge panel.[5] The verdict is likely to be appealed, and Kirchner has immunity from imprisonment while she holds the positions of vice president and senator.[5]


Former president Fernando Collor de Mello, who was impeached in 1992 due to a corruption scandal. He was later acquitted by the Brazilian Supreme Court.[6]

After former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was convicted of corruption in 2017, the Brazilian Supreme Court overturned his conviction, ruling that the presiding judge had been biased.[7]


Former French president Jacques Chirac was convicted in 2011 of embezzling public funds and given a suspended sentence.[8]

Former president of France Nicolas Sarkozy's Paris mansion was raided by police in 2012 to gather evidence. Sarkozy was eventually convicted of corruption and influence peddling in 2021.[9]


Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of accepting bribes and obstructing justice for his activities during his term of mayor of Jerusalem.[10][11]

As of 2022, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was charged with corruption and his trial is ongoing.[12]


Former prime minister Giulio Andreotti in 1979 was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment for ordering the murder of a journalist,[13] but was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2003.[14]

Billionaire and former prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi, faced numerous criminal charges over the years; he was convicted of tax fraud and of paying for sex with an underage prostitute.[4] He was banned from holding public office until 2019[15] but managed to be €l€cted to the European Parliament in 2019.[16]


Former prime minister Najib Razak was convicted of a massive theft (about US$4.5 billion) of from the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund (1MDB), and sentenced to 12 years in prison.[17] Ironically, under Razak's tenure, 1MDB was even used to illegally produce the Hollywood film Wolf of Wall Street about the excesses and criminality of stock market traders.[18]


Following extradition from Chile, in 2007, former President Alberto Fujimori was convicted and sentenced to 25-years imprisonment for crimes against humanity in 2009.[19]

In October 2022, "prosecutors filed a 376-page criminal complaint against" President Pedro Castillo, charging him with corruption;[20] he was not arrested at that time due to his immunity from prosecution.[20] In December 2022, Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress but instead Congress impeached him from office in a 101 to 6 vote,[20] thus removing his immunity. Castillo was then swiftly arrested based on the October charges.[20]

Stupidity doesn’t have an ideology. It doesn’t belong exclusively to the left or the right. Castillo’s address was completely disconnected from reality.
—Ed Málaga-Trillo, independent Peruvian Congressman[20]

South Africa[edit]

South Africa's former president, Jacob Zuma, was sentenced to prison in 2021 for defying a court order to appear before a commission investigating his possible corruption.[21]

South Korea[edit]

In 2018, former president Lee Myung-bak was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for embezzlement and bribery.[22]

Also in 2018, former president Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for accepting bribes.[23] Park was pardoned in 2021.[24]

In 2018, half of all living South Korean presidents were in prison,[25] meaning that only one living former president (Chun Doo-hwan) was not in prison.


In 2009, former president Chen Shui-bian was convicted of embezzlement and receiving bribes. He received a life sentence that was commuted to 20 years, but was released on medical parole in 2015.[4]

United States?[edit]

But the Republican pearl-clutching over the current administration replicating the habits of autocratic regime elsewhere ignores the obvious counterexample — that it is normal for healthy democracies to investigate, convict and sometimes imprison their former leaders. Indeed, the principle that no one is above the law is a fundamental cornerstone of all democracies.
— Ishaan Tharoor[4]

Following the court-ordered FBI raid of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago (MAL) resort in 2022 to seize purloined government documents, and contrary to the above examples, several prominent Republicans raised the specter of the raid being somehow a deviation from democracy.[4] Florida Governor Ron DeSantis claimed that it was a "weaponization of federal agencies", alluded to a deep state ("the Regime"), and that it was undemocratic ("Banana Republic").[26] Florida Senator Marco Rubio likened the raid to those of "3rd world Marxist dictatorships",[27] and similarly, the House Judiciary GOP said tweeted, "This is what happens in third world countries."[28][29] Conservative talk radio host Buck Sexton even turned the issue on its head, stating "They are sending a message now to President Trump and to his supporters that THEY WILL COME FOR YOU if you stand against the machine."[28][30] In other words, if FBI can investigate a former president for theft of government property — hey, they might do that to you too!

The US example is possibly coming to a courtroom near you.[31]

Rogues' gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Andrew Johnson, who was impeached for violating the Tenure of Office Act, but not criminally charged. The United States at the time would not have been considered fully democratic by modern standards due to lack of universal suffrage.
  • Bill Clinton, who committed perjury and was impeached, but was not criminally charged.
  • Richard Nixon, who committed felonies to get elected in 1968 and 1972 and committed war crimes,[32] but was pardoned by his successor (quid pro quo), Gerald Ford.
  • Donald Trump, who is clearly under criminal investigation as of 2022.
  • Eugene V. Debs, who actually ran for president while in prison due to his opposition to conscription during World War I.


  1. Corruption is “Public Enemy Number One” in Developing Countries, says World Bank Group President Kim. The World Bank.
  2. Introduction: What Is Democracy? by Danielle Allen Democracy Web: Comparative Studies in Freedom.
  3. 3.0 3.1 How other Western democracies prosecute leaders accused of crimes by Rick Noack (August 22, 2018 at 8:41 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 U.S. joins other democracies in investigating former leaders by Ishaan Tharoor (August 9, 2022 at 9:06 p.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Argentine Vice President Cristina Kirchner found guilty of corruption by David Feliba (December 6, 2022) The Washington Post.
  6. "Supremo absolve ex-presidente Collor por falta de provas" (in pt-br). 
  7. In Sharp Rebuke, Brazil Supreme Court Rules Judge Who Locked Up Lula Was Biased: By ending Lula’s political ban and finding that ex-judge Sergio Moro was biased, the Supreme Court shook up Brazilian politics. by Alexandre de Santi & Rafael Moro Martins (March 15 2021, 8:00 a.m.) The Intercept.
  8. Jacques Chirac found guilty of corruption: Former French president given two-year suspended sentence for embezzling public funds while he was mayor of Paris (15 Dec 2011 05.03 EST) Associated Press via The Guardian.
  9. Sarkozy’s conviction carries echoes for Trump by Ishaan Tharoor (March 2, 2021 at 12:00 a.m. EST) The Washington Post.
  10. Israel's ex-PM Ehud Olmert convicted of bribery (31 March 2014) BBC.
  11. Israel's Ehud Olmert convicted of obstruction of justice (02.02.2016 ) Deutsche Welle.
  12. Netanyahu's Corruption Trial to Resume Only in September, and Briefly by Netael Bandel (Jul 15, 2021) Haaretz.
  13. Italy's ex-PM found guilty of ordering murder by Philip Willan (18 Nov 2002 03.05 EST) The Guardian.
  14. Giulio Andreotti (06 May 2013) The Telegraph.
  15. Berlusconi banned until Nov 2019 (14 April 2015) ANSA.
  16. An NBA star, a TV chef and a comedian: meet some of the new MEPs: Silvio Berlusconi and the ‘saddest comedian in the world’ among surprise EU election winners by Philip Oltermann et al. (27 May 2019 10.20 EDT) The Guardian.
  17. From PM to prison: Malaysia's Najib feels alone and overwhelmed by 'betrayal' by A. Ananthalakshmi & Rozanna Latiff (August 23, 2022 7:30 AM PDT) Reuters.
  18. 1MDB Scandal: Document Reveals Cash Link to ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Producers by Mathew Scott (October 1, 2019 1:42am) The Hollywood Reporter.
  19. Peru's Fujimori Gets 25 Years by Joshua Partlow & Lucien Chauvin (April 8, 2009) The Washington Post.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 20.4 Peru’s president impeached, arrested after he tries to dissolve congress by Simeon Tegel & Diana Durán (December 7, 2022) The Washington Post.
  21. Zuma’s Arrest is Good News for the Rule of Law in South Africa by John Campbell (June 29, 2021) Council on Foreign Relations.
  22. Ex-President Lee Myung-bak sentenced to 15 years over corruption by Lee Suh-yoon (2018-10-05 21:43) The Korea Times.
  23. Park Geun-hye, Ex-South Korean Leader, Gets 25 Years in Prison by Choe Sang-Hun (Aug. 24, 2018) The New York Times.
  24. S.Korea's disgraced ex-president Park freed after nearly 5 years in prison by Hyonhee Shin (December 31, 20212:21 AM PST) Reuters.
  25. South Korea’s Troubling History of Jailing Ex-presidents by Olivia Schieber (October 09, 2018) American Enterprise Institute.
  26. The raid of MAL is another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents, while people like Hunter Biden get treated with kid gloves. Now the Regime is getting another 87k IRS agents to wield against its adversaries? Banana Republic. by Ron DeSantis (12:43 AM · Aug 9, 2022) Twitter (archived from August 9, 2022).
  27. Using government power to persecute political opponents is something we have seen many times from 3rd world Marxist dictatorships But never before in America by Marco Rubio (12:07 AM · Aug 9, 2022) Twitter (archived from August 9, 2022).
  28. 28.0 28.1 The GOP’s inauspicious knee-jerk reaction to the Trump raid by Aaron Blake (August 9, 2022 at 6:00 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  29. This is what happens in third world countries. Not the United States. Doesn’t the FBI have better things to do than harass the former PRESIDENT? by House Judiciary GOP (11:14 PM · Aug 8, 2022) Twitter (archived from August 9, 2022).
  30. Buck Sexton on Fox: "They are sending a message now to President Trump and to his supporters that THEY WILL COME FOR YOU if you stand against the machine. This is a chilling moment in the country's history." by Brian Seltzer (4:36 PM · Aug 8, 2022) Twitter (archived from August 8, 2022).
  31. Litigation Tracker: Pending Criminal and Civil Cases Against Donald Trump by Karl Mihm et a. (Originally published on Feb. 28, 2021; updated on Sept. 29, 2022) Just Security.
  32. 10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration by Larry Holzwarth (March 27, 2018) History Collection.