As if a dictator’s actions or the corrupted voting system by which political office is taken is insufficient evidence of a totalitarian government, another indicator is to count the number of zeros in the leader’s bank account. This might prove somewhat difficult as most dictators hide their accounts or use shell corporations or other devious means to conceal assets.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, there are many zeros alongside bank accounts in his name. He is believed to be one of the world’s richest men, with assets squirreled away, totalling between $20-$40 billion. Depending upon which number is right, that is almost $500 million to $1 billion dollars for each year since coming to power in 2000.
Great wealth has always been a draw for dictators. Putin has collected more than his share to now become one of the “rich and infamous.” Among the manifestations of his opulence is a 459-foot $700 million luxury megayacht, which, unfortunately for him, was recently seized by officials in Italy. Equipped with ballrooms, gyms, pools, hospital rooms, etc., the boat gives Putin the ability to enjoy luxury as his people survive on US$8,000 annually.
But now the inner circle of Putin’s oligarchs are feeling his pain as many of their assets are also being seized wherever found outside of Russia. There was an attempt to scuttle one oligarch’s yacht by a Ukrainian mechanic, whose effort was thwarted by other crew members.
Yachts seem to be a favorite of dictators. Perhaps one of the most interesting vessels was the one owned by Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein before he was ultimately held accountable by the hangman for his decades of brutality. Worried his inner circle might turn on him, Saddam did not share with them he had a secret “James Bond-esque” escape route built into his yacht – one only discovered after it was bombed in 2003 and later boarded by U.S. forces.
In addition to a helicopter landing pad and rocket launchers, Saddam’s gold-encrusted super yacht was equipped with a most unique escape system. It consisted of a hatch at the very bottom of the vessel to which was attached, obviously hidden from view underwater, a mini-submarine into which Saddam planned to quietly slip away if in danger, leaving intruders totally baffled as to where he was.
After Saddam went into hiding to escape U.S. troops searching for him during the war, perhaps he remained hopeful, not knowing the yacht was no longer operable, about eventually making his way for a clandestine escape. Any such hopes were dashed when he was finally discovered hiding in an eight-foot deep spider hole.
Video of Saddam’s capture was somewhat shocking to world viewers. Normally obsessed with hygiene, he was found unkempt, bearded and with matted hair. It was quite a contrast to the perfectly coiffed and confident leader during his ruling days regularly seen among posh surroundings.
Another dictator who extravagantly enjoyed the fruits of his people’s labors was Romanian President Nicholai Ceausescu. His iron-fisted rule of the country lasted from 1965 until he was deposed by a revolution in 1989. Originally believed by Western elites he would open the door to democratic change, Ceausescu’s visit to North Korea in 1971 inspired him to adopt Pyongyang’s system in Romania. It led him to become the most despised leader in the country’s history.
As an example of his selfish extravagance, Ceausescu had several homes. And, while citizens owning just one home suffered energy blackouts during cold weather months, Ceausescu’s homes never did. Caretakers, not knowing when he might show up and fearing his wrath should the heating not be to his liking, constantly kept them warm.
During the revolution, Ceausescu and his wife were arrested, quickly tried and summarily executed by firing squad. As he stood in front of his executioners, perhaps believing his vast wealth was his right of passage, he began singing the communist hymn declaring, “Long live the Socialist Republic of Romania! History will revenge me!” Today, several of his former homes are used as public offices.
Listing a “Dishonor Roll of Wealthy Dictators” would be incomplete without mentioning Iran’s mullahs. Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought them to power, the mode of transportation for many of them was by donkey as they strove to stay above the poverty line. Today, it is a much different story, especially for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In 2019, the U.S. State Department estimated Khamenei’s accumulated wealth at around $200 billion, noting that financial corruption was “rife in all parts of the Iranian regime starting at the top.” This is quite an increase from a 2013 estimate computed by Reuters, which put his wealth at only $95 billion. As far as what is in his “wallet,” Khamenei also has the right to grant tax exemptions, which he regularly does for many of the entities he owns.
Such bounty is not bad for a holy man of an impoverished nation where 80% of the people suffer from poverty and only 4% hold all the wealth. There was no mention of such Iranian corruption during President Barack Obama’s tenure as he feared mentioning the same would upset the mullahs during nuclear-agreement negotiations.
(Note: One need not have to necessarily be a dictator to obtain such wealth. Hunter Biden’s influence peddling has enabled him to establish a net worth of $230 million while earning a 2021 annual income of $18 million.)
As Putin’s $700 million yacht will now be deducted from his net worth, he still will have no need to “tighten the belt buckle” as he has stashed away more than enough cash to keep him living the kind of lifestyle he feels he richly deserves. While it is unlikely we will ever see it happen, if war reparations eventually are assessed against Moscow for its senseless destruction of Ukraine, in a just world, it would be poetic justice to see Putin forced to personally contribute his wealth as well to foot the bill.
Sadly, not even the full $40 billion Putin may have will sufficiently compensate Ukrainians to the full extent of damage and loss of life they have suffered. But bursting Putin’s financial bubble would at least be a good start in holding him accountable for all he has wrought.
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