Corrupt Legislation, painting by Elihu Vedder

Kleptocracy (from Greek κλέπτης kléptēs, "thief", κλέπτω kléptō, "I steal", and -κρατία -kratía from κράτος krátos, "power, rule") is a government with corrupt leaders (kleptocrats) that use their power to exploit the people and natural resources of their own territory in order to extend their personal wealth and political powers. Typically, this system involves embezzlement of funds at the expense of the wider population.[1][2]

Kleptocracy is different from a plutocracy (society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income) and oligarchy (a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people distinguished by wealth, education, religious status etc.). A kleptocracy is a government ruled by corrupt politicians who use their political power to receive kickbacks, bribes, and special favors at the expense of the populace, or simply direct state resources to themselves, relatives or associates. Kleptocrats may use political leverage to pass laws that enrich them or their constituents and they usually circumvent the rule of law.


Kleptocracies are generally associated with dictatorships, oligarchies, military juntas, or other forms of autocratic and nepotist governments in which external oversight is impossible or does not exist. This lack of oversight can be caused or exacerbated by the ability of the kleptocratic officials to control both the supply of public funds and the means of disbursal for those funds.

Kleptocratic rulers often treat their country's treasury as a source of personal wealth, spending funds on luxury goods and extravagances as they see fit. Many kleptocratic rulers secretly transfer public funds into hidden personal numbered bank accounts in foreign countries to provide for themselves if removed from power.[3]

Kleptocracy is most common in developing countries and collapsing nations whose economies are reliant on the trade of natural resources. Developing nations' reliance on export incomes constitute a form of economic rent and are easier to siphon off without causing the income to decrease. This leads to wealth accumulation for the elites and corruption may serve a beneficial purpose by generating more wealth for the state.

In a collapsing nation, reliance on imports from foreign countries becomes likely as the nation's internal resources become exhausted, thereby contractually obligating themselves to trading partners. This leads to kleptocracy as the elites make deals with foreign adversaries to keep the status quo for as long as possible.

A specific case of kleptocracy is Raubwirtschaft, German for "plunder economy" or "rapine economy", where the whole economy of the state is based on robbery, looting and plundering the conquered territories. Such states are either in continuous warfare with their neighbours or they simply milk their subjects as long as they have any taxable assets. Arnold Toynbee has claimed the Roman Empire was a Raubwirtschaft.[4]