The Most Controversial Political Scandals

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10. The Spiegel Affair

The Spiegel Affair of 1962 (German: Spiegel-Affäre) was one of the major political scandals in Germany in the era following World War II. The scandal involved a conflict between Franz Josef Strauss, then Federal Minister of Defense, and Rudolf Augstein, owner and editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel magazine, Germany’s leading weekly political magazine. The affair would cost Strauss his office and put the young German democracy to its first major test.  

The two had clashed already a year earlier, when, in 1961, Spiegel raised accusations of bribery in favor of the FIBAG construction company, which had received a contract for building military facilities. However, a parliamentary enquiry then found no evidence against Strauss.  The quarrel then escalated when Der Spiegel, in its October 8, 1962, issue, published an article called “Bedingt abwehrbereit” (“prepared for defense to limited extent”), about a NATO maneuver called “Fallex 62”. The piece uncovered the sorry state of the Bundeswehr (Germany’s army) facing the communist threat from the east. At that time, the army had been given the grade “prepared for defense to only a limited extent”, the lowest possible NATO-grade.  

The magazine was accused of treason. At 9 p.m. on October 26, 1962, the magazine’s offices in Hamburg were seized and (together with the houses of several journalists) searched by 36 policemen, and thousands of documents were confiscated. The offices would remain shut down for weeks. Augstein and the then-editors-in-chief Claus Jacobi and Johannes Engel were arrested. The author of the article, Conrad Ahlers, who was vacationing in Spain, was seized in his hotel during the night. Augstein would be jailed for 103 days. -Wikipedia.org

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9. The Teapot Dome Scandal

The Teapot Dome Scandal was an unprecedented bribery scandal and investigation during the White House administration of United States President Warren G. Harding. Before the Watergate scandal, it was regarded as the “greatest and most sensational scandal in the history of American politics”. The scandal also was a key factor in posthumously destroying the public reputation of Harding, who was extremely popular at the time of his death in office in 1923.

In 1921, by executive order of President Harding, control of U.S. Navy petroleum  reserves at Teapot Dome in Wyoming and at Elk Hills and Buena Vista in California, was transferred from the U.S. Navy Department to the Department of the Interior. The petroleum reserves had been set aside for the Navy by President Taft. In 1922, Albert B. Fall, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, leased, without competitive bidding, the Teapot Dome fields to Harry F. Sinclair of Sinclair Oil, and the field at Elk Hills, California, to Edward L. Doheny. In 1922 and 1923, these transactions became the subject of a sensational U.S. Senate investigation conducted by Senator Thomas J. Walsh.  

It was found that in 1921, Doheny had lent Fall $100,000, interest-free, and that upon Fall’s retirement as Secretary of the Interior, in March 1923, Sinclair also lent him a large amount of money. The investigation led to criminal prosecutions. Fall was indicted for conspiracy and for accepting bribes. Convicted of the latter charge, he was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $100,000: The same amount that Doheny had lent him.

In another trial for bribery Doheny and Sinclair were acquitted, although Sinclair was subsequently sentenced to prison for contempt of the Senate and for employing detectives to shadow members of the jury in his case. The oil fields were restored to the U.S. government through a Supreme Court decision in 1927. -Wikipedia.org

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8. Jack Abramoff

Jack Abramoff (born February 28, 1958) is a former American  lobbyist, businessman, and con man. Abramoff served three and one half years of a six-year sentence in federal prison, and is now assigned to a halfway house. He is scheduled to be released on December 4, 2010. Abramoff pled guilty on January 3, 2006, to three criminal felony counts in a Washington, D.C., federal court related to the defrauding of American Indian tribes and corruption of public officials.

The four tribes Abramoff and his associates persuaded include: Michigan’s Saginaw Chippewas, California’s Agua Caliente, the Mississippi Choctaws, and the Louisiana Coushattas. Abramoff is accused of defrauding the tribes of tens of millions of dollars on issues associated with Indian gaming. The following day he pleaded guilty to two criminal felony counts in a separate federal court, in Miami, related to his fraudulent dealings with SunCruz Casinos.

On September 4, 2008, a Washington court found Abramoff guilty of trading expensive gifts, meals and sports trips in exchange for political favors and he was sentenced to a four-year term in prison which will be served concurrently with his previous sentences. The extensive corruption investigation has led to the conviction of White House officials J. Steven Griles and David Safavian, U.S. Representative Bob Ney, and nine other lobbyists and Congressional aides. -Wikipedia.org

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7. Silvio Berlusconi

According to journalists Marco Travaglio and Enzo Biagi, Berlusconi entered politics to save his companies from bankruptcy and himself from convictions. From the very beginning he said it clearly to his associates. Berlusconi’s supporters hailed him as the “new man”, an outsider who was going to bring a new efficiency to the public bureaucracy and reform the state from top to bottom.  

While investigating these matters, three journalists noted the following facts:     

* Mediobanca’s annual report about the 10 biggest Italian companies showed that, in 1992, Berlusconi’s media and finance group Fininvest had about 7,140 billion lire of debts, 8,193 billion lire of assets (with 35% of liquidity) and a net worth of 1,053 billion lire. The asset-debt ratio represented a patrimonial situation bordering on bankruptcy.   

* Between 1992 and 1993, Fininvest was investigated several times by prosecutors in Milan, Turin and Rome. The investigations regarded: alleged bribes (to political parties and public officials with the aim of getting contracts), alleged fake invoicing by Publitalia, the financing of political congresses and abuse of television frequencies.    

* On the other hand Bruno Vespa noticed that “In January 1994, Silvio Berlusconi was under no proceedings. Two members of the staff from the Ministry of the Finances were charged to be corrupted for a minor episode by a Fininvest manager, but the accusation would have later fallen. Aldo Brancher, who was working with Fininvest at the time, was charged for having financed some stands at the “Feste dell’Unità” and “L’Avanti!”, and he would have been declared fully not guilty only in 2004. Paolo Berlusconi [Silvio Berlusconi’s brother] was instead arrested […] after the Cavaliere went into politics.” After having decided to enter the political arena, Berlusconi was investigated for forty different inquests in less than two years. -Wikipedia.org

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6. The United Kingdom Parliamentary expenses scandal

The United Kingdom Parliamentary expenses scandal is a major political scandal triggered by the leak and subsequent publication by the Telegraph Group in 2009 of expense claims made by members of the United Kingdom Parliament over several years. Public outrage was caused by disclosure of widespread actual and alleged misuse of the permitted allowances and expenses claimed by Members of Parliament (MPs), following failed attempts by parliament to prevent disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation.

The scandal aroused widespread anger among the UK public against MPs and a loss of confidence in politics. It resulted in a large number of resignations, sackings, de-selections and retirement announcements, together with public apologies and the repayment of expenses. It also created pressure for political reform extending well beyond the issue of expenses and led to the Parliament elected in 2005 being referred to as the ‘Rotten Parliament.’ -Wikipedia.org

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5. Spiro Agnew

On October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew became the second Vice President to resign the office. Unlike John C. Calhoun, who resigned to take a seat in the Senate, Agnew resigned and then pleaded no contest to criminal charges of tax evasion, part of a negotiated resolution to a scheme wherein he was accused of accepting $29,500 in bribes during his tenure as governor of Maryland. Agnew was fined $10,000 and put on three years’ probation.

The $10,000 fine only covered the taxes and interest due on what was “unreported income” from 1967. The plea bargain was later mocked as the “greatest deal since the Lord spared Isaac on the mountaintop”, by former Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs. Students of Professor John F. Banzhaf III from the George Washington University Law School, collectively known as Banzhaf’s Bandits, found four residents of the state of Maryland willing to put their names on a case and sought to have Agnew repay the state $268,482 – the amount it was said he had taken in bribes.

After two appeals by Agnew, he finally resigned himself to the matter and a check for $268,482 was turned over to Maryland State Treasurer William James in early 1983.  As a result of his no contest plea, Agnew was later disbarred by the State of Maryland, calling him “morally obtuse.” As in most jurisdictions, Maryland lawyers are automatically disbarred after being convicted of a felony, and a no contest plea exposes the defendant to the same penalties as a guilty plea. -Wikipedia.org

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4. The Bofors Scandal

The Bofors scandal was a major corruption scandal in India in the 1980s; the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and several others were accused of receiving kickbacks from Bofors AB for winning a bid to supply India’s 155 mm field howitzer. The scale of the corruption was far worse than any that India had seen before, and directly led to the defeat of Gandhi’s ruling Indian National Congress party in the November 1989 general elections.

It has been speculated that the scale of the scandal was to the tune of Rs. 400 million. The case came to light during Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s tenure as defence minister, and was revealed through investigative journalism by Chitra Subramaniam and N. Ram of the newspapers the Indian Express and The Hindu.

The name of the middleman associated with the scandal was Ottavio Quattrocchi, an Italian businessman who represented the petrochemicals firm Snamprogetti. Quattrocchi was reportedly close to the family of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and emerged as a powerful broker in the 1980s between big businesses and the Indian government.

Even while the case was being investigated, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991 for an unrelated cause. In 1997, the Swiss banks released some 500 documents after years of legal and the Central Bureau of Investigation  (CBI) filed a case against Quattrocchi, Win Chadha, also naming Rajiv Gandhi, the defence secretary S. K. Bhatnagar and a number of others. In the meantime, Win Chadha also died.  -Wikipedia.org

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3. The Lewinsky Scandal

The Lewinsky scandal was a political sex scandal emerging from a sexual relationship between United States President Bill Clinton (D) and a then 22-year-old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. The news of this extra-marital affair  and the resulting investigation eventually led to the impeachment of President Clinton  in 1998 by the U.S. House of Representatives and his subsequent acquittal on all impeachment charges (of perjury and obstruction of justice) in a 21-day Senate trial.

In 1995, Monica Lewinsky, a graduate of Lewis & Clark College, was hired to work as an intern at the White House during Clinton’s first term, and began a personal relationship with him, the details of which she later confided to her friend and Defense department co-worker Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded their telephone conversations.

When Tripp discovered in January 1998 that Lewinsky had signed an affidavit in the Paula Jones case denying a relationship with Clinton, she delivered the tapes to Kenneth Starr, the Independent Counsel who was investigating Clinton on other matters, including the Whitewater scandal, Filegate, and Travelgate. During the grand jury testimony Clinton’s responses were guarded, and he argued, “It depends on what the meaning of the word is is”. -Wikipedia.org

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2. Iran–Contra Affair

The Iran–Contra affair was a political scandal in the United States that came to light in November 1986. During the Reagan administration, senior U.S. figures, including President Ronald Reagan, agreed to facilitate the sale of arms to Iran, the subject of an arms embargo. At least some U.S. officials also hoped that the arms sales would secure the release of hostages and allow U.S. intelligence agencies to fund the Nicaraguan contras.  

The affair began as an operation to improve U.S.-Iranian relations. It was planned that Israel would ship weapons to a relatively moderate, politically influential group of Iranians, and then the U.S. would resupply Israel and receive the Israeli payment. The Iranian recipients promised to do everything in their power to achieve the release of six U.S. hostages, who were being held by the Lebanese Shia Islamist group Hezbollah, who in turn were unknowingly connected to the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution.

The plan deteriorated into an arms-for-hostages scheme, in which members of the executive branch sold weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of the American hostages. Large modifications to the plan were devised by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North of the National Security Council in late 1985, in which a portion of the proceeds from the weapon sales was diverted to fund anti-Sandinista and anti-communist rebels, or Contras, in Nicaragua. -Wikipedia.org

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1. The Watergate Scandal

The Watergate scandal was a political scandal in the United States in the 1970s, resulting from the break-in to the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. Effects of the scandal ultimately led to the resignation of the President of the United States Richard Nixon on August 9, 1974, the first—and so far, only—resignation of any U.S President.

It also resulted in the indictment and conviction of several Nixon administration officials. The affair began with the arrest of five men for breaking and entering into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex on June 17, 1972. The FBI connected the payments to the burglars to a slush fund used by the 1972 Committee to Re-elect the President.

As evidence mounted against the president’s staff, which included former staff members testifying against them in an investigation conducted by the Senate Watergate Committee, it was revealed that President Nixon had a tape recording system in his offices and that he had recorded many conversations. Recordings from these tapes implicated the president, revealing that he had attempted to cover up the break-in. After a series of court battles, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the president had to hand over the tapes; he ultimately complied. -Wikipedia.org

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