Former Presidents Behind Bars

Last weekend was, on the face of it, a good one for anti-corruption crusaders and a bad one for former presidents.


South Korea’s former President Park Geun-hye was sentenced to 24 years on corruption charges, Brazil’s former President Lula began serving 12 years for his own graft conviction, and ousted South African President Jacob Zuma appeared in court to face the first of what could be a long series of corruption charges.

So far so good. The high and mighty were held to account. A win for the rule of law at a time when corruption is an increasingly important focus for voters across the world. But rooting out corruption isn’t just about high-profile prosecutions. There are outstanding challenges that lie ahead in the battle against graft in each of these countries.

In Brazil, the country is deeply polarized over whether the conviction and jailing of the left-wing Lula represents a win for impunity (no one is above the law) or a hit to impartiality (his supporters note that plenty of centrist politicians are still free despite corruption allegations of their own.)

In South Korea, the culture of corruption that exists between the government and the powerful, family run conglomerates known as chaebol runs deep. (If you’re reading this on a Samsung and/or riding in a Hyundai, you are in direct contact with a chaebol.) After all, with Ms. Park’s conviction, all four of South Korea’s living former presidents — going back to the 1990s — are either being tried or punished for corruption. It’s not easy to slip the influence of these powerful companies, of which the 10 largest control more than 27 percent of all business assets in South Korea. Will Ms. Park’s fate change that?

In South Africa, Jacob Zuma’s being hauled into court is also, potentially, a win for the rule of law. But it remains to be seen how far his prosecution goes and whether, crucially, it sheds a broader light on the endemic corruption that has contributed to South Africa’s unenviable status as the world’s most unequal society. This is a critical question as the country heads for pivotal elections next fall, in which Mr. Zuma’s successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, has pledged to clean up the ANC.

In 2012, the United States created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect these young people from being deported. Yet just five years later, the program was rescinded, putting close to 700,000 DACA recipients at risk of being banished from the only home they've ever known. More than five dozen of these DACA recipients at risk are Microsoft employees. These young people contribute to the company and serve its customers. They help create products, secure services, and manage finances. And like so many young people across our nation, they dream of making an honest living and a real difference in the communities in which they reside. Yet they now live in uncertainty.

Microsoft has told its Dreamers that it will stand up for them along with all the nation's DACA recipients. It will represent them in court and litigate on their behalf. That's why Microsoft joined Princeton University and Princeton student Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez to file one of the three cases challenging the DACA rescission that was heard on Nov. 12 by the United States Supreme Court.

Read more on Microsoft On The Issues.

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