BUDAPEST, Hungary — The U.S. posted its worst result in at least eight years in a global corruption index, as special interests and growing threats to checks and balances made it more difficult to tackle graft.

The U.S. was tied with France for 23rd in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index, one place lower than the previous year, according to a report published by Transparency International on Thursday. Denmark and New Zealand tied for first, indicating the lowest levels of corruption.

The rankings were published the same week that the U.S. Senate began its first impeachment trial in 20 years to decide whether President Donald J. Trump should be removed from office for abuse of power. It also coincides with a presidential election campaign where Trump is seeking a second term.

“While President Trump campaigned on a promise of ‘draining the swamp’ and making government work for more than just Washington insiders and political elites, a series of scandals, resignations and allegations of unethical behavior suggest that the ‘pay-to-play’ culture has only become more entrenched,” Transparency International said.

Of particular concern in the U.S. and many other countries is the correlation between money and politics, the watchdog said. Almost two thirds of countries that significantly improved their standings also strengthened campaign finance laws. Meanwhile, many of the low performers have lax regulations when it comes to wealth and power, according to the report.

“More than in any other major developed country, people in America believe that rich people buy elections,” said Scott Greytak, Advocacy Director for Transparency International’s U.S. office. “When people think their government is for sale, they stop believing in its future.”

Although northern European countries retained their spots at the top of the index (Nordic countries occupied five of the top 11 places), they’re not immune to sleaze, particularly when it comes to the private sector.

Danske Bank A/S, Denmark’s largest bank, and Swedish lenders Swedbank AB and SEB AB have all been implicated in recent probes over the laundering of billions of dollars of Russian money via their Baltic units.

“Integrity at home does not always translate into integrity abroad, and multiple scandals in 2019 demonstrated that transnational corruption is often facilitated, enabled and perpetuated by seemingly clean Nordic countries,” Transparency International said.

 

With assistance from Peter Laca.


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