Former leaders have been jailed or charged all over the world
Former President Trump declared after being indicted in New York that "THE USA IS NOW A THIRD WORLD NATION," a statement echoed by his sons and many of his supporters.
The big picture: In reality, leaders who left office since 2000 have been jailed or prosecuted in at least 78 countries — including in democracies like France, Israel and South Korea.
- Since 1980, around half of the world's countries have had at least one such case, and that's not counting impeachments or coups.
Driving the news: Investigations into former leaders have been in the news around the world lately.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ongoing corruption trial has fueled some of the outrage over his judicial overhaul plan, while Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva returned to the presidency in January after his corruption conviction was thrown out
- Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan's home was surrounded this month in a botched attempt to arrest him, while former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak remains in jail after a judge this week threw out a challenge to his corruption conviction in the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scheme.
- Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Argentina's current vice president and former president, was convicted of fraud but remains in office and out of prison because her position carries immunity and because she's launched what's expected to be a lengthy appeal.
Several ex-leaders from wealthy democracies have also found themselves on trial in the past two decades.
- Like Trump, Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy had his home searched after leaving office. He was convicted in two separate cases in 2021 and sentenced to prison (he's appealing).
- In South Korea, former President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years for corruption. She was pardoned by her successor in December 2021 after serving five.
- In Taiwan, former President Chen Shui-bian was convicted of bribery in 2009.
Lula isn't the only former leader for whom a trial or even conviction was not career-ending.
- Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been in and out of court for three decades and was temporarily barred from seeking office due to a tax fraud conviction, but remains a player in Italian politics at 86.
For obvious reasons, the countries that are least likely to be filled in on our map are monarchies or dictatorships where leaders are long-serving and untouchable.
- In some countries, leaders may be inclined to cling to power due to the risk of prison if they don't. That's one explanation for the trend of African leaders seeking third terms.
- But the region where the most countries have jailed or prosecuted former leaders over the last two decades is Latin America. In Peru, every president but one who served between 1985 and 2018 has been arrested or charged.
- Former Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is under investigation for alleged corruption but has not been charged.
In the vast majority of cases all over the world, the charges former leaders have faced relate to corruption.
- Because we were looking at cases where leaders were jailed or prosecuted after leaving office, we didn't include impeachments and didn't automatically include coups — though cases where leaders were detained following coups are in the "complicated" category.
- We did include cases where ex-leaders were prosecuted in absentia or faced charges that were later dropped. We didn't include cases where leaders left office before 2000 but were charged more recently (Chile's Augusto Pinochet, for example). We didn't include cases where the charges came solely from international courts (thus, no Vladimir Putin).
- In the vast majority of these cases, the ex-leader was prosecuted or jailed for their activities in office, rather than before or after.
- We were only considering leaders who held the most powerful political office in each country, though that required judgment calls in a few cases.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional context after the indictment of former President Trump.