Former Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin made perhaps the most unique splash of the world’s political scandals when a raunchy video of her dancing and partying at a private party surfaced last year, causing controversy that spilled into 2023 and resulted in her exit from office.
The former prime minister was featured in the video dancing and drinking with a group of friends in an apartment, which some saw as continued evidence of the habit of attending too many parties and festivals for someone in a role as important as the one she held. Marin, 36 at the time of the video, faced even more of an outcry following the partying scene, with critics accusing her of engaging in behavior that some said was unbecoming of her position.
Marin defended her actions despite the controversy, arguing that her behavior was normal for a person in her age group.
“I danced, sang and partied – perfectly legal things. And I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve seen or known of others [using drugs],” she said after the video went viral.
Nevertheless, the young leader continued to face backlash for her behavior into 2023, culminating in her defeat in April’s Finnish parliamentary election. The defeat became even more embarrassing for the leader when it became clear her party would fall to third place in the election, causing her to announce days later that she would be stepping down as the leader of the Social Democratic Party later in 2023.
Marin followed through on that promise and left Parliament all together in September, announcing that she would become an adviser to the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change. It was also revealed that the former leader signed with Range Media Partners in October, a talent agency that represents other big-name celebrities that will help Marin navigate future media opportunities.
But Marin wasn’t the only world political leader to garner controversy in 2023, with several other examples of scandal and corruption highlighting a busy year around the world.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy started 2023 by forcing a series of resignations and firings of top-level officials in a bid to root out corruption in Ukraine. The January moves were just the first in a series of similar decisions throughout the year, with the cloud of corruption hanging over his government and threatening the lifeline of support Ukraine has continued to receive from the West as it fights back against Russia’s invasion.
The Biden administration has acknowledged the concerns about Ukraine while continuing its support for the country’s war effort, including in a September State Department memo that called corruption the “biggest challenge in winning the war” while still arguing that “Ukraine has a unique opportunity in the current moment to commit to the anti-corruption and judicial reforms needed to realize the aspirations of the Ukrainian people.”
For his part, Zelenskyy has continued to oust high-level figures from Ukraine’s government, including a series of September moves that analysts praised as a positive sign of the government’s commitment to rooting out the issues.
But concerns still remain, including from those close to the Ukrainian leader. In October, a Time report detailed the concerns of one close aide who said people in the government were still “stealing like there’s no tomorrow.”
“When I asked Zelenskyy about the problem, he acknowledged its gravity and the threat it poses to Ukraine’s morale and its relationships with foreign partners. Fighting corruption, he assured me, is among his top priorities,” wrote the report’s author, Time senior correspondent Simon Shuster. “He also suggested that some foreign allies have an incentive to exaggerate the problem because it gives them an excuse to cut off financial support.”
“It’s not right,” Zelenskyy told him, “for them to cover up their failure to help Ukraine by tossing out these accusations.”
While Ukraine continued to fight off corruption and Russia in 2023, Russia, too, found itself trying to root out similar problems within its own government.
Perhaps the most dramatic example of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fight with corruption came in April when a Daily Beast report outlined the black market industry for private data that continues to run rampant across Russia. For Putin’s part, the problem could no longer be ignored when prominent pro-war Russians Vladlen Tatarsky and Aleksandr Dugin were targeted in explosive attacks, killing Tatarsky and Dugin’s daughter.
According to the report, the attacks were made possible by the selling of prominent Russian addresses by police agencies in the country, oftentimes to Ukrainians.
While Ukraine has denied any involvement in the attacks, the Daily Beast reported, the country has assessed that Moscow has been “unsettled” by them, spawning Russia’s federal law enforcement arm to begin a crackdown on local agencies.
“The Kremlin is cleansing policemen selling addresses of specific officers to Ukrainian citizens after the assassinations of Tatarsky and Dugin,” Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s minister for internal affairs, told the outlet. “They are afraid of assassinations.”
World political scandals weren’t just contained to Europe in 2023, with South America being home to one of the year’s most explosive cases.
At the center of the controversy was Colombian President Gustavo Petro’s 36-year-old son, Nicolas, who was arrested in August and faced charges of money laundering and illicit enrichment.
The case originated when Nicolas Petro’s ex-wife, Daysuris Vasquez, said in a local news magazine that Petro pocketed money after soliciting donations for his father’s 2022 campaign.
Those allegations sparked an investigation and closer scrutiny of Petro’s assets, with prosecutors accusing the young Petro of using the illicit funds to purchase everything from luxury homes to expensive cars, sometimes registering the property in the names of relatives to avoid detection.
Petro, who was serving as a legislator representing a northern coastal region, would have had to make a salary more than 10 times his actual compensation to justify such expenses, prosecutors alleged, prompting the investigation and charges.
The younger Petro pleaded not guilty at a hearing on the charges later that month and will face a trial in the case after a plea deal failed to materialize, according to a Reuters report.
Asia also saw its share of political corruption stories in 2023, including the investigation of the face of the Chinese military, Gen. Li Shangfu.
Li became a prominent figure in the Chinese military’s modernization drive, according to a report from Reuters, rising to become one of President Xi Jinping’s most trusted officers in a more than decade-long push to make China more competitive with rivals such as the United States.
But part of that drive was also a push to stamp out widespread corruption that has for years plagued the Chinese military, with Li finding himself at the center of that as well.
Li was elevated to defense minister in March, according to Reuters, but within months disappeared from public view amid a corruption probe. At issue in the investigation was Li’s history of procurement of military equipment, though it is still unclear what specific purchases were being scrutinized.
Despite the sudden sidelining of one of its top officials, analysts told Reuters there will be no shortage of candidates to fill his role as China enters 2024 looking to continue its push to become a larger military player on the world stage.