The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP

Corruption in South Asia


South Asia is home to some of the most corrupt countries in the world. From nepotism and bribery to embezzlement and money laundering, corruption is rampant throughout the region. As a result, South Asians have become increasingly cynical of their government officials and institutions. In this article, we'll look at the most corrupt countries in South Asia, as well as explore some of the ways that corruption manifests itself in the region. We hope that by shining a light on this issue, we can help empower those who are striving for change.

Most corrupt countries in South Asia

In 2021, the following countries in South Asia were perceived to be the most corrupt:

  • Cambodia

  • Bangladesh

  • Pakistan

  • Myanmar

  • Laos

  • Philippines

  • Thailand

  • Sri Lanka

  • Indonesia

  • Vietnam

  • India

  • Malaysia

Of the types of corruption occurring in these countries, paying bribes is the most commonplace. Using India as an example, bribes are often paid in this country’s judicial system, particularly in the lower courts, to obtain favorable decisions. People in India also indicate that demands for bribes are commonplace when dealing with the police. Lastly, in addition to its complex and inefficient bureaucracy, paying bribes or “facilitating payments” is common in India to obtain public services.

Cambodia is another example of a country where bribes are commonplace. Citizens in this country routinely encounter requests for bribes, be it surrounding traffic violations, when dealing with the country’s court system, and even to obtain medical services. Although Cambodia enacted an anti-corruption statue in 2010, it did not include protections for whistleblowers shedding light on the proscribed activities. On the contrary, whistleblowers can be incarcerated if the corruption they blow the whistle on cannot be proven.

In Bangladesh, corruption is also rampant. Citizens of this country consider corruption and most particularly, paying bribes, a part of everyday life. Citizens routinely pay bribes to government officials. Many government officials depend on the bribes they receive to survive financially.

Major corruption scandals

As an example of high-level corruption occurring in the region, the 1Malaysia Development Berhad ("1MDB") scandal is a prime example. This scandal occurred in Malaysia and was brought to light in 2015. 1MDB was a government-owned company, created with the purpose of driving long-term economic development in Malaysia. Then prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, was able to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars from the company to his personal bank accounts. It is estimated that additional hundreds of million of dollars were misappropriated from 1MDB, with estimated totals ranging in the billions of dollars. The scandal further ensued when charges against Najib Razak were dropped, although he was later charged with money laundering and abuse of power. The scandal also involved Goldman Sachs, who led the issuance of related state-guaranteed bonds valued at billions of dollars. To this day, investigations surrounding this corruption scandal continue.

Another example of high-level corruption in Asia has been documented in Myanmar. Myanmar is the largest producer and exporter of jade in the world. For centuries, the jade mined in Myanmar has been considered the highest quality jade available worldwide. Unfortunately, these rich mineral deposits and the profits they produce rarely benefit the country’s citizens. Reports have revealed that military officials and even drug lords routinely exploit jade mines and export the mineral without paying taxes. It is estimated that billions of dollars of tax revenues are lost due to these practices.

Effects of corruption

At first glance, corruption is a malady that affects every citizen in a country where it occurs unchecked. Looking below the surface, corruption has a particularly nefarious effect on lower-income citizens. These not only face dire financial conditions to begin with, but having to pay bribes to obtain basic government services leads to further financial need and poverty. Additionally, countries, where corruption is rampant, tend to have difficulties attracting foreign investment. Without foreign investment, many developing countries in South Asia have a hard time improving their economy. This in turn affects the middle and lower classes since they have less access to well-paid jobs. Left unchecked, corruption lays a heavy toll on South Asian economies and its citizens.


To sum up, like in most places around the world, South Asia is rife with corruption, and it takes a toll on the region’s economy and its people. The most corrupt countries in the region are often also some of the poorest. Despite this situation, there is hope. People are fighting back against corruption and some countries have adopted a no-tolerance policy against corruption. As an integral part in aiding these countries and their citizens, law firms play a pivotal role in helping to expose wrongdoing and seek justice for victims. If you are looking for ways to help fight corruption in South Asia, please get in touch with us. We would be happy to discuss how we can work together to make a difference in this important part of the world.