Download this Paper Open PDF in Browser

The Politics of Elite Punishment: Why Some Corrupt Presidents are Prosecuted But Not Others?

39 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 1 Sep 2011

Vidal Romero

Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM)

Date Written: 2011


By looking at history books and the daily news we systematically observe a significant amount of information about presidents’ suspected, and sometimes proved, illicit acts in all countries. Nevertheless, prosecution of presidents is a relatively rare event; an even rarer event is their conviction. Why? The existing literature on corruption has not sufficiently focused its attention on the chief executive and we still have no plausible answers to this inquire. Presidential corruption is usually a symptom of a rotten political system; punishing such behavior is a credible signal that nobody is untouchable, thus, providing the correct incentives for political actors. As opposed to bureaucratic corruption, much fewer individuals directly participate on elite corruption, making it more difficult to identify and measure. A main hypothesis of this paper is that prosecution of presidents is used strategically by their political enemies. It is not only whether the “right” institutions exist — a necessary condition — but also whether politicians decide to use them or not. To add to our knowledge on presidential corruption and punishment, I utilize data from all Latin American and the United States presidents from 1950 to 2010 analyzed by regression and matching techniques to inquire into the determinants of presidential prosecution and conviction. I find evidence showing that politics play a significant role on whether presidents are prosecuted and convicted. Presidents with worse-off economic performance, thus more unpopular, are more vulnerable to prosecutions and convictions. Similarly, post-Cold War executives — when international pressure for clean governments has been relatively stronger — are more likely to be prosecuted and declared guilty.

Suggested Citation

Romero, Vidal, The Politics of Elite Punishment: Why Some Corrupt Presidents are Prosecuted But Not Others? (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN:

Vidal Romero (Contact Author)

Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM) ( email )

Av. Camino a Sta. Teresa 930
Col. Héroes de Padierna
Mexico City, D.F. 01000, Federal District 01080

Paper statistics

Abstract Views