WikiLeaks, drugs and sex: Scandals of 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

WASHINGTON - WikiLeaks seems to have tarnished everyone it touched. But there were plenty of politicians and celebrities who did not need help from the internet whistle-blower to get themselves into trouble in 2010.

WikiLeaks’ release of cables from US embassies to Washington - often bluntly written accounts of confidential discussions - have in most cases only confirmed what was already widely suspected in international relations. But they have nevertheless embarrassed US friends and foes alike and risk undermining US diplomacy.

According to the documents: Saudi King Abdullah, no friend of Tehran, suggested that the US use military force to stop the Iranian nuclear programme; a member of the Chinese politburo ordered hacker attacks on internet giant Google; Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s eccentricities include a heavy reliance on a “voluptuous” Ukrainian nurse; and German Chancellor Angela Merkel is “risk averse and rarely creative”.

If nothing else, the WikiLeaks case was an unprecedented scandal of the internet age.

By comparison, Silvio Berlusconi spent 2010 on well-trodden ground.

Italians might have expected their prime minister to tone down his lifestyle following the criticism triggered by his escapades the previous year, which included alleged cavorting with a teenage girl - leading to the breakdown of his marriage - and embarrassing disclosures by a self-described escort.

Instead, in October, the 74-year-old conservative politician’s private life once again came under the spotlight when a Moroccan go-go dancer - stage name Ruby Rubacuori (Ruby Stealer-of-hearts) - claimed she attended, while still 17 years old, parties hosted earlier this year by Berlusconi at his residence near Milan.

The revelations added a new term to Italy’s political lexicon: bunga-bunga, which the woman, Karima El Mahroug, said was used to describe the erotic games featured at the premier’s parties.

Berlusconi dismissed the reports as “colossal lies”, but admitted intervening in May on behalf of Ruby when she was being held by police on suspicion of theft.

A telephone call from the premier’s office informed police officials that they had arrested a niece of Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak, and that she should be released to avoid a diplomatic incident. Opposition politicians were appalled by what they said was Berlusconi’s interference with the course of justice.

His response: “It is better to have a passion for beautiful girls than to be gay.” The remarks triggered another controversy, with activists and many commentators accusing the premier of “hate speech” against homosexuals.

In Poland, former deputy Prime Minister Andrzej Lepper was sentenced in February to 27 months in jail after being found guilty of demanding and accepting sexual favours from female members of his Self-Defence party.

The district court in central Poland also sentenced former Self-Defence parliamentarian Stanislaw Lyzwinski to five years for rape and taking sexual advantage of female members of his party - a nationalist agrarian party known for its loud protests.

Party worker Aneta Krawczyk said Lepper demanded sexual favours in 2001 in return for a job in a regional office of the party. Krawczyk said she was unemployed with two children to support when she was made the offer. She continued granting sexual favours until 2006 in order to keep the job.

Back in the US, Mel Gibson, 54, and Charlie Sheen, 45, Hollywood’s perennial bad boys, continued to make news for all the wrong reasons.

Gibson’s notorious temper once again got the better of him, if there’s an inkling of truth to the sordid allegations levelled at him by Oksana Gregorieva.

The Russian mother of Gibson’s young daughter Lucia alleges that he hit her while she was holding the baby and threatened her with a gun. She backed up her claims with recordings of the “Mad Max” star’s volcanic telephone rants.

Sheen was also up to his old shenanigans, destroying a swanky New York hotel room in an apparent cocaine and alcohol-fuelled binge, while an adult film actress he was supposed to be … entertaining … locked herself up in the bathroom for protection. Making matters worse, the incident occurred while Sheen was on a trip to New York with his ex-wife and kids.

Lindsay Lohan was another Hollywood figure who continued to make gossip columnists rich as she battled her drug demons, while Paris Hilton gave the world a moment of diversion during the World Cup when she was arrested for smoking marijuana in the dignitaries’ area of the stadium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Luckily for her, a lesser-known friend who was with her at the time took the rap.

Back to the online world, the twin powerhouses of Facebook and Google continued to be embroiled in privacy scandals. The world’s dominant social networking site was found to be sharing the private data of its 500 million members with advertisers, while the world’s dominant search company used its Street View data collection vehicles to snoop on unprotected wireless networks and scoop up people’s passwords and other sensitive information.

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