Cameron Tells Queen Summit Will Host the `Fantastically Corrupt'

  • Prime minister overheard naming Afghanistan and Nigeria
  • Nigeria's Buhari says he is working to tackle corruption

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron named Nigeria and Afghanistan among “the most corrupt countries in the world” in a conversation with Queen Elizabeth II and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on the eve of a visit by the leaders of the two countries.

Garba Shehu, spokesman for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, said the comments were “embarrassing” and did not recognize work being done by Nigeria to tackle corruption. Cameron, whose remarks were captured on video and broadcast by ITV News, was speaking to the queen about an anti-corruption summit to be held in London on Thursday. 

“We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain,” Cameron is heard telling the queen during an event at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday to mark her 90th birthday. “Nigeria and Afghanistan are possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”

Welby then joined the conversation to point out that “this particular president” is not corrupt, though it’s not clear if he meant Buhari or Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani. “He’s trying very hard,” Cameron agreed. Buhari and Ghani have written chapters in a book being published to coincide with the anti-corruption meeting, Cameron’s office said.

“This is embarrassing to us, to us say the least, given the good work that the president is doing,” Shehu said in a posting on Twitter. “The eyes of the world are on what is happening here. The prime minister must be looking at an old snapshot of Nigeria. Things are changing with corruption and everything else.”

Corruption Index

Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as the third-most corrupt country in the world, just behind Somalia and North Korea, in its 2015 index of 175 nations. Nigeria fares better, ranking equal 31st-most corrupt along with Tajikistan and Comoros.

“Both leaders have been invited to the summit because they are fighting against corruption in their countries and the U.K. stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them as they do so,” Cameron’s spokesman, Dan York-Smith, told reporters in London. “Both presidents have acknowledged, in the collection of essays being published alongside the summit, that there is an issue with corruption in their countries.”

Staged Intervention

The prime minister was aware the cameras were there, but York-Smith denied suggestions that he had used the Queen’s birthday event for a staged intervention to draw attention to the summit.

It is not the first time that Cameron has been caught on camera making unguarded comments involving the queen. After the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, he was forced to apologize after he was overheard saying she had “purred down the line” at the news that the U.K. would not be broken up.

Buhari, who will address the summit, will hold a one-on-one meeting with Cameron before returning to Nigeria on Friday, Shehu said.

“As an internationally recognized leader in the global fight against corruption, President Buhari will play a prominent part in the summit,” Shehu said. “In his address to the summit and interactions with other participating leaders, he will urge the international community to move faster on the dismantling of safe havens for the proceeds of corruption and the return of stolen funds and assets to their countries of origin.”

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