It seems to follow that where there are politicians, there is scandal. It either follows them around or they have an uncanny knack of attracting it. I mean, think over your personal career so far. How many times have you accidentally accepted a huge bribe stuffed into a brown envelope? Or slept with someone who was also sleeping with your worst enemy? It just doesn’t happen very often outside the world of politics. But as soon as you start work in Washington or Westminster, it seems that your first scandal is waiting to break. Find out some of the most dramatic moments in international politics with our Top 10 Political Scandals.
10. Thomas Jefferson’s Illegitimate Children
Let’s start with a good, old-fashioned sex scandal. This concerns President Thomas Jefferson, who held office between 1801 and 1809 and may have had a long-running romance with his slave, Sally Hemmings. Questions were raised about the nature of their relationship when Sally’s six, light-skinned children all appeared to bear a startling resemblance to the President (all these children born into slavery were freed by Jefferson’s will after he died). Sally herself was the product of a mixed-race sex scandal, with her father being her master John Wayles, co-incidentally also the father of Jefferson’s wife Martha Wayles Skelton. Martha died when Jefferson was just 38, and the affair with Sally is believed to have started after that.
So, did President Jefferson father six children with his slave and half-sister-in-law? The answer is probably yes, and modern DNA evidence suggests it probably was true. But it didn’t bring down Jefferson’s presidency and he completed two full terms.
9. Sergei Magnitsky’s Death
Look up “Russian Political Scandals” on Wikipedia and you’ll find a list of just three. Is that because Russian politicians are beyond corruption and so everything that happens in and around the Kremlin is whiter-than-white? No. It’s probably because these things are never allowed to leave the secretive and vast Russian terrain. But one story that leaked out was the Magnitsky affair.
Sergei Magnitsky was a tax auditor who discovered a massive fraud, reported it and found himself being arrested for aiding tax evasion. But he never got the chance to protest his innocence because he died before his trial, which still went ahead in his “absence”. The official cause of death – in prison – was untreated pancreatitis, but there was evidence that he’d been beaten and possibly tortured while in prison as well. The investigation into his death was dropped almost as soon as it started, and the effect was that of international outrage at the obvious human rights violations. In December 2012 America passed the Magnitsky Act, which barred anyone involved in the case from entering America and Russia retaliated with their own sanctions. The tensions are still simmering…
8. Nicolas Sarkozy’s Donations
So many political scandals revolve around money – how else do politicians fund their lavish lifestyles? And former French President Nicolas Sarkozy knew the importance of campaign funds, and the best person to obtain them from – the world’s richest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, estimated to be worth $33.4billion in March 2013. Sarkozy was said to have visited her a number of times while he was seeking re-election (although he maintains it was only once) and persuaded her to part with 4 million euros. The problem here is twofold – that the donations exceeded the limits allowed but, more importantly, that Bettencourt is now senile and Sarkozy is being accused of taking advantage of someone who was unable to make her own decisions. He now faces a possible prison sentence.
7. Woodrow Wilson’s Wife
We’re back to sex and intrigue now, with a question mark hanging over the World War One-era President. It was the short turnaround between wives that raised eyebrows back at the turn of the century – his first wife Ellen Axson Wilson died in August 1914, and he was married again to Edith Bolling Galt Wilson in December 1915. Rumors abounded that Wilson had been cheating on Ellen during their marriage and then further rumors started that Galt and Wilson had conspired together to kill Ellen. The latter seems unlikely – the pair were only introduced in March 1915, more than half a year after Ellen had died. Also, she died of Bright’s Disease which would generally be considered to be natural causes. But facts mean little when it comes to scandal-making…
6. Christian von Boetticher’s Girlfriend
And now for a very modern sex scandal, involving German politician Christian von Boetticher. The 40-year-old was a rising star in the Christian Democratic Union party before news broke that he was involved with a 16-year-old. The affair was strictly legal, as she was just over the age of consent, but left a bad taste in the voters’ mouths, especially once it emerged they’d met on Facebook where von Boetticher was prone to over-sharing his personal life (including confessing to skipping a political debate in order to watch a lunar eclipse). A swift resignation followed.