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EL ESPECTADOR

Sex, The Secretly Preferred Currency Of Public Corruption

From China to Colombia, the use of sexual favors and vulnerability to blackmail is key to widespread corruption of public officials.

Prostitutes in Shenzhen, China
Prostitutes in Shenzhen, China
Mauricio Rubio

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Sexual favors are an ancient form of persuasion, and may also be the most effective form of political corruption. Here in Colombia, sex is both a popular currency and a symptom of wider corruption among people in positions of power.

A married person who has a stable extra-marital relationship is dishonest, per se. Anyone who can deceive his or her own family can do the same with others, not to mention with institutions where we're told "nobody" is hurt when money goes missing. Of course politicians playing on the side are not just corrupt but also vulnerable to blackmail.

In China, links have been found between extra-marital affairs and thieving from public funds. A study of a sample group of corrupt Chinese officials who'd been disciplined found that almost every one had also cheated on his wife, and three out of five had full-time mistresses. Ming Li, a woman who heads a marriage counseling firm, is clear on one thing: "When a man has a lot of money, he's always looking for a lover."

Within Colombia's bureaucratic nomenklatura, which is less stable than China's, officials typically cannot afford to maintain several households simultaneously. The best our officials manage seems to be the odd indiscretion or paying a hooker during a trip. It is no surprise that an escort girl here should have cited certain congressmen with whom she had worked as an "assistant" as among her most assiduous customers. Luckily for these girls, in the world's "happiest" and most carefree country, delving into private lives is still avoided, even when it affects the public purse. Nobody will know how many municipal contracts or provincial posts have been paid for with sexual services. Corruption fueled by prostitution, which requires go-betweens, can cost the public purse far more than regular concubines whose costs are basically a home and living expenses, without intermediaries.

Paying off politicians, judges and entrepreneurs with "feminine charm" is nothing unusual in Colombia. The former head of a state agency with an enormous budget says that decades ago, when visiting regional offices, he was usually met by the local notable (and presumptive partner of state projects) in the company of pretty girls placed at his disposal. He refused not just out of respect for his family, but also to avoid shady situations.

Declining gifts

Another former technocrat says he attended a party outside the capital where the president, the cabinet, magistrates and businessmen had two escorts each, paid for by the head of the regional prosecution service apparently familiar with such operations. Though he did not use his "gift," he recalls, several politicians gave him friendly pats on the back, as if to say, welcome to our world!

A female district official, one of the biggest prostitution experts I know, once told me about a brothel that "specialized" in magistrates. Her husband who was a lawyer, used to tell her that an excellent way to win a court case was always to use women to "prod" the judgment in the right direction.

The modalities of sexual favors are often ignored in public discussions of corruption, amid the strident talk and the drama surrounding the victims. For very often it all is taken care of quite smoothly. Indeed, the drug cartels don't have two, but three weapons in their persuasive arsenal: cash, bullets and girls.

I am no moralist, and believe people should be free to engage in private activities of their choice. But what's the price when sexual favors become the currency that shapes public life?

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Geopolitics

Geert Wilders, The Europe Union's Biggest Problem Since Brexit

The victory of Geert Wilders' far-right party in this week's elections in the Netherlands shows that politics in Europe, at both the national and European Union level, has fundamentally failed to overcome its contradictions.

Geert Wilders, The Europe Union's Biggest Problem Since Brexit

A campaign poster of Geert Wilders, who leads the Party for Freedom (PVV) taken in the Hague, Netherlands

Pierre Haski

Updated Nov. 28, 2023 at 6:15 p.m.

-Analysis-

PARIS — For a long time, Geert Wilders, recognizable by his peroxide hair, was an eccentric, disconcerting and yet mostly marginal figure in Dutch politics. He was known for his public outbursts against Muslims, particularly Moroccans who are prevalent in the Netherlands, which once led to a court convicting him for the collective insulting of a nationality.

Consistently ranking third or fourth in poll results, this time he emerged as the leader in Wednesday's national elections. The shock is commensurate with his success: 37 seats out of 150, twice as many as in the previous legislature.

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The recipe is the same everywhere: a robustly anti-immigration agenda that capitalizes on fears. Wilders' victory in the Netherlands reflects a prevailing trend across the continent, from Sweden to Portugal, Italy and France.

We must first see if Wilders manages to put together the coalition needed to govern. Already the first roadblock came this week with the loss of one of his top allies scouting for coalition partners from other parties: Gom van Strien, a senator in Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) was forced to resign from his role after accusations of fraud resurfaced in Dutch media.

Nonetheless, at least three lessons can be drawn from Wilders' far-right breakthrough in one of the founding countries of the European Union.

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