The president who pays cash in advance
Eight years after the Zimbabwe stopped using its own currency in to end a period of hyperinflation, government policies have caused an acute cash crisis. The economy operates largely on U.S. dollars, but the central bank has limited large withdrawals. The shortage means that it can cost as much as $120 to obtain a $100 bill (larger denominations are easier to smuggle out of the country).
And yet, at least one man has ready access to hard currency. President Robert Mugabe has been traveling the world like George Clooney in “Up in the Air.” Last year, the government spent more than $36 million over 10 months to send Mugabe on at least 20 trips, according to Reuters, while in comparison the entire annual budget for parliament is only $30 million. In 2011, Zimbabwe’s then-finance minister, Tendai Biti, called foreign travel “a cancer in the management of our public resources.” Now in opposition, Biti says the president’s staff are abusing the large per diems they receive when they travel.
It’s certainly not clear what Mugabe gets from traveling. He flew to Cancun last month for a international conference, but despite being one of the few heads of state attending, he did not address the group. He nonetheless flew in style, reportedly leasing a private plane from Bahrain because the state-run Air Zimbabwe is unable to safely operate its planes. That doesn’t bother the minister in charge of the airline, though. “The president is a good customer,” he told a reporter. Mugabe pays cash up front.
Bags stuffed with cash: You can’t have just one
As America consumes itself with political turmoil, Brazil continues to show the world how scandal is done. You might not think that it could get worse for a president than having recordings released of an alleged scheme to bribe a former lawmaker into silence. (Temer says he has done nothing wrong.) But on Saturday, police arrested a Rodrigo Rocha Loures, a key aide to Brazilian President Michel Temer, who was elevated to the presidency after then-President Dilma Rousseff was impeached.
The aide was filmed receiving a bag allegedly stuffed with $154,000 worth of bribe money, which he later turned over the police, and the danger for Temer is that Loures might be induced into a plea bargain against the president. There are signs that Loures is under real pressure. Newspapers reported Tuesday that he had asked prosecutors not to shave his head, as had they had done to a recent famous convict.
Either way, that bag full of cash is just the tip of the iceberg. The owners of JBS, the meatpacking company behind the bribery scheme, told authorities in their own plea bargain that they had spent some $184 million to bribe nearly 1,900 politicians.
When cash is outlawed, only outlaws will get paid
President Nicolas Maduro has tried to ban the use of large amounts of cash in Venezuela, but as usual, the rules don’t apply to him. Since late last year, the government has repeatedly floated and then delayed plans to take the largest bill out of circulation in what they call efforts to crack down on the illicit economy. (In reality, Venezuela’s economic woes are in part caused by the limits Maduro and company have put on the currency.)