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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


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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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

That Man In Mariupol: Is Putin Using A Body Double To Avoid Public Appearances?

Putin really is meeting with Xi in Moscow — we know that. But there are credible experts saying that the person who showed up in Mariupol the day before was someone else — the latest report that the Russian president uses a doppelganger for meetings and appearances.

screen grab of Putin in a dark down jacket

During the visit to Mariupol, the Presidential office only released screen grabs of a video

Russian President Press Office/TASS via ZUMA
Anna Akage

Have no doubt, the Vladimir Putin we’re seeing alongside Xi Jinping this week is the real Vladimir Putin. But it’s a question that is being asked after a range of credible experts have accused the Russian president of sending a body double for a high-profile visit this past weekend in the occupied Ukrainian city of Mariupol.

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Reports and conspiracy theories have circulated in the past about the Russian leader using a stand-in because of health or security issues. But the reaction to the Kremlin leader's trip to Mariupol is the first time that multiple credible sources — including those who’ve spent time with him in the past — have cast doubt on the identity of the man who showed up in the southeastern Ukrainian city that Russia took over last spring after a months-long siege.

Russian opposition politician Gennady Gudkov is among those who confidently claim that a Putin look-alike, or rather one of his look-alikes, was in the Ukrainian city.

"Now that there is a war going on, I don't rule out the possibility that someone strongly resembling or disguised as Putin is playing his role," Gudkov said.

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