- Three grand juries are investigating Trump, who could become the first former president ever charged.
- South Korea has investigated four of its recent leaders and sent two to prison.
- Israel has sent two former leaders to prison and Netanyahu is on trial.
WASHINGTON – While Donald Trump faces the prospect of becoming the first former U.S. president to be charged criminally, other democracies have shown no reservations about hauling their leaders into court during the last 20 years.
Perhaps the most prominent is Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been on trial for years on corruption charges he denies. Two of his predecessors have been imprisoned.
In contrast in the U.S., former President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon for crimes associated with the Watergate investigation rather than put the country through the trauma of a trial, though Nixon was never charged. Investigations of Trump, who denied wrongdoing, have roiled the country as a Justice Department special counsel, Jack Smith, scrutinizes his role in the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, and having classified documents at Mar-a-Lago.
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Sentences can run long for convicted leaders. Former leaders of Taiwan and Malaysia were sentenced to 20 years and 12 years, respectively. Pardons are also possible, with a former South Korean president sentenced to 22 years and pardoned after five.
Not every case leads to conviction. Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has been acquitted at trials related to sexually charged “bunga bunga” parties he held while in office. But he was convicted of tax fraud and served a year of community service.
Here’s why some world leaders faced charges:
- Ehud Olmert, who was prime minister from 2006 to 2009, was convicted in 2014 of accepting bribes to promote real estate projects in Jerusalem during his previous terms as mayor and trade minister, and obstructing justice. He was sentenced to 27 months in prison, but paroled early.
- Moshe Katsav, who was president from 2000 to 2007, was sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011 for raping a former employee before he became president and other crimes, such as indecent acts and obstruction of justice, after he took office. He was released after five years.
- Netanyahu is on trial for corruption even as he leads the country. He is charged with breach of trust and accepting bribes, but denies wrongdoing. He is accused of performing official favors for wealthy businessmen in exchange for gifts, according to the New York Times. As the trial continues, his proposal to overhaul the judicial system sparked widespread protests.
- Former President Roh Moo-hyun died by suicide in May 2009 while facing corruption charges, according to the New York Times. He had acknowledged a businessman gave $6 million to his relatives while in office from 2003 to 2008 but he denied the payments were bribes.
- Lee Myung-bak, who served as president from 2008 to 2013, was sentenced to 17 years in prison for corruption crimes. The former CEO had been convicted of taking bribes from companies such as Samsung, embezzling funds from a company he owned and other crimes during his presidency. The current president, Yoon Suk-yeol, pardoned him in December.
- Park Geun-hye, who served as president from 2013 to 2017, was sentenced to 22 years in prison for bribery and other crimes. Her successor, Moon Jae-in, who served from 2017 to 2022, pardoned her in 2021 after about five years.
- Moon’s successor, Yoon Suk-yeol, called for his investigation last July for refusing to accept two defectors from North Korea.
Imran Khan, who was prime minister from 2018 to 2022, was ousted in a no-confidence vote, according to the BBC. He was charged in August under an anti-terrorism law, accused of making threats against state officials. His arrest came after he accused police and the judiciary of torturing a close aide.
Chen Shui-bian, who was president from 2000 to 2008, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for corruption offenses during his tenure, according to the BBC. He was convicted in 2009 of embezzling state funds, committing forgery and money laundering.
Najib Razak, who was prime minister from 2009 to 2018, was acquitted March 23 in a trial for tampering with an audit in the multibillion-dollar looting of the 1Malaysian Development Berhad state fund. But he was imprisoned in August on a 12-year term after losing the final appeal for other corruption charges related to the fund.
Silvio Berlusconi, who was prime minister off and on for nine years from 1994 to 2011, was acquitted in February of witness tampering in a trial related to the sexually charged “bunga bunga” parties he held while in office. The trial was the third in a scandal that included 2010 charges – when he was a sitting premier – of having paid for sex with an underage girl. He was acquitted.
But Berlusconi was convicted in 2013 of tax fraud at his Mediaset television company and the Senate expelled him from Parliament, according to Reuters.
Contributing: The Associated Press