Special Report

The Most Corrupt Countries on Earth

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The practice of foreign companies bribing local officials for favorable treatment corrupts the flow of commerce across international lines, according to the Berlin-based non-governmental watchdog group Transparency International. The group has warned about “a continued decline in enforcement against foreign bribery in many countries.”

What do Luxembourg and China have in common? On the face of it, not much. One is a tiny and affluent European democracy; the other an authoritarian superpower of 1.4 billion people that commands nearly 12% of the world’s exports. Yet both countries rank at the bottom when it comes to policing foreign bribery. 

To determine the countries most likely to allow foreign bribery, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Transparency International report Exporting Corruption 2022: Top trading countries doing even less than before to stop foreign bribery. Countries are grouped into four levels of enforcement: active, moderate, limited, and little or no enforcement. Within each level, we ordered countries by more detailed actions taken, such as investigations or sanctions, in the four-year period from 2018 to 2021 and by the share of global exports. 

Out of the 47 countries reviewed and that are responsible for 84% of global exports, only the United States and Switzerland are considered to be actively policing foreign bribery.

In fact, the United States was the first country to enact a law to curb the practice of foreign bribery when it passed the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1977 — an unprecedented move at a time when it was considered standard practice for foreign companies to shower gifts on local officials in return for lucrative business contracts. By the 1990s, European countries were passing their own versions of the law, and in 2005, the United Nations’ Convention Against Corruption treaty that went into effect. 

Despite this, the practice continues. In one high-profile example, Walmart Inc. paid a record $282 million in 2019 to settle an investigation into its business practices, including bribing local officials, in Mexico, Brazil, China, and India. But we only know of these cases because the U.S. is investigating, prosecuting, and sanctioning such practice. In most countries, these practices go unnoticed because of lax enforcement, if any. (Here are 30 scandals that cost companies billions in fines.)

Transparency International found that Luxembourg and China — along with India, Finland, and Bulgaria — launched no anti-bribery investigations against foreign companies from 2018 to 2021. Furthermore, 20 of the world’s countries responsible for nearly 40% of global exports have only initiated 25 investigations and imposed just six punitive sanctions in that period of time.

Countries with little or no enforcement of foreign bribery include economic behemoths like Japan and South Korea as well as less developed countries thirsty for more foreign direct investment like Hungary and Poland. (Also see, Russia is on the list of the most corrupt countries in the world.)

The latest report from Transparency International is discouraging, with only two countries improving enforcement and nine lowering enforcement, suggesting the world still has a long way to go to stamp out the practice.

Here are the countries most likely to take foreign bribes.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

47. United States
> Enforcement level: Active
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 48
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 97
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 9.8%
> Corruption index, 2021: 67 – #27 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 331,893,745

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Source: StockByM / iStock via Getty Images

46. Switzerland
> Enforcement level: Active
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 39
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 9
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 2.0%
> Corruption index, 2021: 84 – #7 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 8,701,914

45. Germany
> Enforcement level: Moderate
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 16
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 37
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 7.4%
> Corruption index, 2021: 80 – #10 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 83,129,285

Source: saiko3p / iStock via Getty Images

44. France
> Enforcement level: Moderate
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 19
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 7
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 3.5%
> Corruption index, 2021: 71 – #22 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 67,719,897

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43. United Kingdom
> Enforcement level: Moderate
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 19
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 9
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 3.4%
> Corruption index, 2021: 78 – #11 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 67,350,695

42. Australia
> Enforcement level: Moderate
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 8
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 5
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.4%
> Corruption index, 2021: 73 – #18 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 25,738,142

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Source: guter / iStock via Getty Images

41. Israel
> Enforcement level: Moderate
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 4
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.5%
> Corruption index, 2021: 59 – #36 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 9,365,083

40. Norway
> Enforcement level: Moderate
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 3
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.6%
> Corruption index, 2021: 85 – #4 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 5,408,320

39. Latvia
> Enforcement level: Moderate
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 8
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.1%
> Corruption index, 2021: 59 – #36 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 1,884,488

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38. Canada
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 3
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 2.2%
> Corruption index, 2021: 74 – #13 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 38,246,108

Source: 152930510@N02 / Flickr

37. Netherlands
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 11
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 3.1%
> Corruption index, 2021: 82 – #8 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 17,533,406

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36. Italy
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 13
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 2
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 2.5%
> Corruption index, 2021: 56 – #42 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 59,109,666

Source: SCStock / iStock via Getty Images

35. Spain
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 7
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.9%
> Corruption index, 2021: 61 – #34 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 47,326,687

Source: fotoVoyager / iStock via Getty Images

34. Sweden
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 10
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.0%
> Corruption index, 2021: 85 – #4 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 10,415,812

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33. Brazil
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 5
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 2
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.1%
> Corruption index, 2021: 38 – #84 most corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 213,317,639

32. Austria
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 3
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.0%
> Corruption index, 2021: 74 – #13 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 8,951,520

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31. Colombia
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 3
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.2%
> Corruption index, 2021: 39 – #87 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 51,207,695

Source: guenterguni / E+ via Getty Images

30. South Africa
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 7
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.4%
> Corruption index, 2021: 44 – #70 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 60,142,978

29. Chile
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 4
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.3%
> Corruption index, 2021: 67 – #27 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 19,678,363

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28. Estonia
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 0
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.1%
> Corruption index, 2021: 74 – #13 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 1,330,932

27. Portugal
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 2
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.4%
> Corruption index, 2021: 62 – #32 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 10,297,876

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Source: stockstudioX / iStock via Getty Images

26. Costa Rica
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 4
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.1%
> Corruption index, 2021: 58 – #39 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 5,163,038

Source: pawopa3336 / iStock via Getty Images

25. Argentina
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 4
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.3%
> Corruption index, 2021: 38 – #84 most corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 45,808,747

24. New Zealand
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 3
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.2%
> Corruption index, 2021: 88 – #1 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 5,112,800

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Source: Christian Vinces / iStock via Getty Images

23. Peru
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 3
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.2%
> Corruption index, 2021: 36 – #75 most corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 33,359,420

22. Greece
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.3%
> Corruption index, 2021: 49 – #58 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 10,656,962

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21. Slovenia
> Enforcement level: Limited
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 2
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.2%
> Corruption index, 2021: 57 – #41 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 2,107,007

20. Japan
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 2
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 3.6%
> Corruption index, 2021: 73 – #18 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 125,502,290

19. Hong Kong
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 0
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 2.7%
> Corruption index, 2021: 76 – #12 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 7,413,100

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Source: tropicalpixsingapore / iStock via Getty Images

18. Singapore
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 0
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 2.7%
> Corruption index, 2021: 85 – #4 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 5,453,570

Source: SeanPavonePhoto / iStock via Getty Images

17. South Korea
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 4
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 1
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 2.8%
> Corruption index, 2021: 62 – #32 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 51,744,876

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Source: kruwt / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

16. Belgium
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 2
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.8%
> Corruption index, 2021: 73 – #18 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 11,552,615

Source: Alexis Gonzalez / E+ via Getty Images

15. Denmark
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 6
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.8%
> Corruption index, 2021: 88 – #1 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 5,850,189

Source: 128905059@N02 / Flickr

14. Czech Republic
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.8%
> Corruption index, 2021: 54 – #49 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 10,500,850

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Source: KIKILOMBO / iStock via Getty Images

13. Mexico
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 3
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.9%
> Corruption index, 2021: 31 – #56 most corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 128,972,439

12. Ireland
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 2
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 2.2%
> Corruption index, 2021: 74 – #13 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 5,011,460

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Source: Mindaugas Dulinskas / iStock via Getty Images

11. Lithuania
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.2%
> Corruption index, 2021: 61 – #34 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 2,795,321

Source: sorincolac / iStock via Getty Images

10. Slovakia
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.4%
> Corruption index, 2021: 52 – #56 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 5,441,991

Source: ZoltanGabor / iStock via Getty Images

9. Hungary
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.5%
> Corruption index, 2021: 43 – #73 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 9,710,107

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Source: Thankful Photography / iStock via Getty Images

8. Turkey
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.0%
> Corruption index, 2021: 38 – #84 most corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 84,147,326

Source: TomasSereda / iStock via Getty Images

7. Poland
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.4%
> Corruption index, 2021: 56 – #42 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 38,162,224

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6. Russia
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 1
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 1.9%
> Corruption index, 2021: 29 – #44 most corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 143,446,000

Source: hdesislava / iStock Editorial via Getty Images

5. Bulgaria
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 0
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.2%
> Corruption index, 2021: 42 – #78 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 6,898,621

Source: bruev / iStock via Getty Images

4. Finland
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 0
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.4%
> Corruption index, 2021: 88 – #1 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 5,541,020

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Source: querbeet / iStock via Getty Images

3. Luxembourg
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 0
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 0.6%
> Corruption index, 2021: 81 – #9 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 640,064

2. India
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 0
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 2.3%
> Corruption index, 2021: 40 – #85 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 1,393,409,033

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Source: tcly / iStock via Getty Images

1. China
> Enforcement level: Little or No
> Investigations commenced, 2018-2021: 0
> Cases concluded with sanctions, 2018-2021: 0
> Share of world exports, 2018-2021: 11.6%
> Corruption index, 2021: 45 – #66 least corrupt of 180 countries
> Population, 2021: 1,444,216,102

Methodology

To determine the countries where foreign bribery is most likely, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed Transparency International report Exporting Corruption 2022: Top trading countries doing even less than before to stop foreign bribery. Countries are grouped into four levels of enforcement: active, moderate, limited, and little or no enforcement. Within each level, we ranked countries by total points given to the number of investigations or cases commenced and sanctions imposed in the four-year period from 2018 to 2021, from most to least, with major cases given greater points. In case ties remained, we ranked by the share of global exports, from lowest to highest share. We listed all 47 countries reviewed.

We added from the report the number of investigations commenced and the number of cases concluded with sanctions and the country’s share of world exports, all for the years 2018-2021. From another Transparency International report, we added the Corruption Perception Index for 2021. 2021 population data came from OECD or from the World Bank when unavailable.

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