List of former heads of democratic countries charged with crimes

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Jacob Zuma in court in 2019
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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]
This is the path that — in various forms, but with an unchanged essence — a variety of countries have walked in recent history: from Germany after National Socialism to the states of Latin America after military dictatorships, from the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe to post-apartheid South Africa. To prevent the return of evil, we must first comprehend, condemn and punish it — publicly and at the highest state level.
—Vladimir Kara-Murza, journalist and currently a political prisoner in Russia[2]

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.[3] 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.[4][5] 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.[4]


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.[6] The verdict is likely to be appealed, and Kirchner has immunity from imprisonment while she holds the positions of vice president and senator.[6]


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.[7]

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.[8]

In 2023, former president Jair Bolsonaro was charged with abusing his power while in office.[9] Later in the same year, he was indicted for rape apology.[10]


Former French president Jacques Chirac was convicted in 2011 of embezzling public funds and given a suspended sentence.[11]

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.[12]


Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of accepting bribes and obstructing justice for his activities during his term as mayor of Jerusalem.[13][14]

As of 2022, at-the-time former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was charged with corruption and his trial is ongoing.[15]


Former prime minister Giulio Andreotti in 1979 was sentenced to 24 years imprisonment for ordering the murder of a journalist,[16] but was later acquitted by the Supreme Court in 2003.[17]

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.[5] He was banned from holding public office until 2019[18] but managed to be €l€cted to the European Parliament in 2019.[19]


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.[20] 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.[21]


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[22]

In October 2022, "prosecutors filed a 376-page criminal complaint against" President Pedro Castillo, charging him with corruption;[22] he was not arrested at that time due to his immunity from prosecution.[22] In December 2022, Castillo attempted to dissolve Congress but instead Congress impeached him from office in a 101 to 6 vote,[22] thus removing his immunity. Castillo was then swiftly arrested based on the October charges.[22]


On 2014, former Prime Minister José Sócrates was arrested in Lisbon, accused of corruption, tax evasion, and money laundering, becoming the country's first Prime Minister thus accused.[23] A few days later he was officially charged with corruption and tax fraud.[24] In 2021 however, a Portuguese judge dropped the corruption charges against Sócrates, still upholding lesser charges of money laundering and falsifying documents.[25]

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.[26]

South Korea[edit]

In 2018, former president Lee Myung-bak was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for embezzlement and bribery.[27]

Also in 2018, former president Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment for accepting bribes.[28] Park was pardoned in 2021.[29]

In 2018, half of all living South Korean presidents were in prison,[30] 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.[5]


Former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra ("Tony Woodsome"[31]) led the country during a period (2001-2006) when the country was not regarded as democratic, but was charged with and convicted (along with his wife and adopted brother) of corruption in 2008 when the country was regarded as a flawed democracy.[32] Despite his conviction, Thaksin managed to flee Thailand and so far has managed to escape justice, reportedly obtaining passports from multiple countries and even obtaining diplomat status from Nicaragua.[33]

Thaksin returned to Thailand from overseas in 2023 after a political party affiliated with him was given the position of prime minister due to entrenched royalists intervening in the selection of a new prime minister. Shortly after that the King commuted his sentence from 8 to 1 year in prison.[34]

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[5]

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.[5] 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").[35] Florida Senator Marco Rubio likened the raid to those of "3rd world Marxist dictatorships",[36] and similarly, the House Judiciary GOP said tweeted, "This is what happens in third world countries."[37][38] 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."[37][39] In other words, if FBI can investigate a former president for theft of government property — hey, they might do that to you too!

A New York City grand jury indicted Trump in 2023 for paying hush money to a porn star using campaign funds.[40] Other indictments are likely coming forth.[41]

In 2023, Trump was indicted with 37 felony charges: conspiracy to obstruct justice, withholding a classified document, concealing a classified document and scheming to conceal a classified document.[42]

Rogues' gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

  • Bill Clinton, who committed perjury and was impeached, but was not criminally charged.
  • Eugene V. Debs, who actually ran for president while in prison due to his opposition to conscription during World War I.
  • Alberto Fujimori, who was elected President of Peru in 1990, ruled the country as a dictatorship, and was later convicted in 2010 when Peru was a flawed democracy
  • 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.
  • Richard Nixon, who committed felonies to get elected in 1968 and 1972 and committed war crimes,[44] but was pardoned by his hand-picked successor (quid pro quo), Gerald Ford.


  1. Corruption is “Public Enemy Number One” in Developing Countries, says World Bank Group President Kim The World Bank.
  2. Change will come to Russia — abruptly and unexpectedly by Vladimir Kara-Murza (September 11, 2023 at 6:45 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  3. Introduction: What Is Democracy? by Danielle Allen Democracy Web: Comparative Studies in Freedom.
  4. 4.0 4.1 How other Western democracies prosecute leaders accused of crimes by Rick Noack (August 22, 2018 at 8:41 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 U.S. joins other democracies in investigating former leaders by Ishaan Tharoor (August 9, 2022 at 9:06 p.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Argentine Vice President Cristina Kirchner found guilty of corruption by David Feliba (December 6, 2022) The Washington Post.
  7. "Supremo absolve ex-presidente Collor por falta de provas" (in pt-br). 
  8. 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.
  9. Court could ban Brazil’s Bolsonaro from running for office again by Terrence McCoy & Marina Dias (June 22, 2023 at 5:00 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  10. Silva, Cedê (2023-09-26). "Trial court indicts Bolsonaro for rape comments in 2003" (in en-US). 
  11. 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.
  12. Sarkozy’s conviction carries echoes for Trump by Ishaan Tharoor (March 2, 2021 at 12:00 a.m. EST) The Washington Post.
  13. Israel's ex-PM Ehud Olmert convicted of bribery (31 March 2014) BBC.
  14. Israel's Ehud Olmert convicted of obstruction of justice (02.02.2016 ) Deutsche Welle.
  15. Netanyahu's Corruption Trial to Resume Only in September, and Briefly by Netael Bandel (Jul 15, 2021) Haaretz.
  16. Italy's ex-PM found guilty of ordering murder by Philip Willan (18 Nov 2002 03.05 EST) The Guardian.
  17. Giulio Andreotti (06 May 2013) The Telegraph.
  18. Berlusconi banned until Nov 2019 (14 April 2015) ANSA.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 1MDB Scandal: Document Reveals Cash Link to ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Producers by Mathew Scott (October 1, 2019 1:42am) The Hollywood Reporter.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 Peru’s president impeached, arrested after he tries to dissolve congress by Simeon Tegel & Diana Durán (December 7, 2022) The Washington Post.
  23. "Portugal ex-PM Jose Socrates held in tax fraud inquiry" (in en-GB). BBC News. 2014-11-22. 
  24. "Portugal ex-PM charged with corruption, to remain in custody" (in en). Reuters. 2014-11-24. 
  25. "Portuguese court orders ex-PM Sócrates to stand trial for money laundering" (in en). 2021-04-09. 
  26. Zuma’s Arrest is Good News for the Rule of Law in South Africa by John Campbell (June 29, 2021) Council on Foreign Relations.
  27. Ex-President Lee Myung-bak sentenced to 15 years over corruption by Lee Suh-yoon (2018-10-05 21:43) The Korea Times.
  28. Park Geun-hye, Ex-South Korean Leader, Gets 25 Years in Prison by Choe Sang-Hun (Aug. 24, 2018) The New York Times.
  29. S.Korea's disgraced ex-president Park freed after nearly 5 years in prison by Hyonhee Shin (December 31, 20212:21 AM PST) Reuters.
  30. South Korea’s Troubling History of Jailing Ex-presidents by Olivia Schieber (October 09, 2018) American Enterprise Institute.
  31. Can Thaksin secure a pardon? by Aekarach Sattaburuth (10 Jan 2022 at 04:30) Bangkok Post.
  32. Ex-Thai PM's wife guilty of tax fraud by Chalathip Thirasoonthrakul (July 31, 2008) International Herald Tribune (archived from September 24, 2008).
  33. Germany lifts travel ban on fugitive Thaksin (July 28, 2011 12:00 am) The Nation (archived from December 6, 2013).
  34. Thai king commutes former PM Thaksin's prison sentence to one year by Panarat Thepgumpanat & Panu Wongcha-um (September 1, 20237:54 AM PDT) Reuters.
  35. 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).
  36. 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).
  37. 37.0 37.1 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.
  38. 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).
  39. 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).
  40. Trump indicted by N.Y. grand jury, first ex-president charged with crime: Trump is expected to turn himself in and appear in court Tuesday. Specific charges have not been made public. by Shayna Jacobs et al. (March 30, 2023) The Washington Post.
  41. 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.
  42. Indictment says Trump lied, schemed to keep highly classified secrets by Devlin Barrett et al. (June 9, 2023) The Washington Post.
  43. Thaksin Shinawatra: the full transcript of his interview with The Times by Richard Lloyd Parry (2009) The Times.
  44. 10 Crimes of the Nixon Administration by Larry Holzwarth (March 27, 2018) History Collection.