Dictators who love gold: a brief history

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Sunday 07 June 2015 11:50

Your common-or-garden dictator has a tendency towards eccentricity as well as cruelty.

Self-indulgent antics, personality cults and ostentatious tastes are par for the course, whether we’re talking renaming a month after yourself a la Turkmenistan’s Saparmurat Niyazov, or Kim Jong-il’s insistence that he invented the hamburger... in 2009.

Most of all though, autocrats lust after shiny things. But something really bad happens when you combine that magpie-instinct with unfettered access to state coffers.

We found out this week that Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has invited the leader of the opposition to verify that there are no golden toilet seats in his new 1,150-room palace, which critics insist was built (at a cost of £406million) illegally. This really happened.

While Erdogan is an elected official, his violent crackdown on demonstrations, blanket ban of Twitter and YouTube, and continued denial of the Armenian genocide all bear the hallmarks of an authoritarian ruler - besides which, you know you’ve got a real dictator on your hands when they (allegedly) cover sanitary items in precious metals.

While we’re waiting for an answer on Erdogan’s toilet, we decided to take a look at the company he’s keeping. Presenting the six autocrats with the worst cases of the Midas Touch:

Muammar Gaddafi

The undisputed bling king had a thing for golden guns - famously, a rebel brandished a gold-plated pistol that was taken from his dead body during the 2011 revolution in Libya. Other items found in his house included a golden AK-47, a golden fly swatter and a golden sofa, shaped like a mermaid. Seriously.

Saddam Hussein

When the Iraqi dictator’s palace was sacked after the US invasion in 2003, troops found gold-plated toilet brushes, golden toilets, and up to millions of pounds' worth of gold bars hidden inside a fuel tanker. Bizarrely, though, the chandeliers were plastic.

Viktor Yanukovych

The deposed President of Ukraine owned gold-plated golf clubs, and a golden paperweight shaped like a loaf of bread later became a symbol for the opulence of his regime.

We're not sure what it symbolises either.

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov

Two for the price of one here: Turkmenistan’s leader since 2006 doesn’t want to be outdone by his predecessor Saparmurat Niyazov, who had a £7.8 million gold statue of himself built in the capital of Ashgabat that rotated 360 degrees every day so he would always face the sun. Again, we're not making this up.

Last month Berdymukhamedov unveiled a 24-carat leaf statue of his likeness riding a equally shiny and expensive horse, on top of a cliff of white marble.


Robert Mugabe

President Mugabe showing off someone else's shiny medals. He just can't help himself.

The seemingly immortal president of Zimbabwe is fond of giving himself lavish birthday presents: for his 89th birthday in 2013 he minted six solid gold coins at a cost of £500,000 each, following up with a one-tonne gold and diamond-studded “royal throne” for his 90th. The stone chair also features crocodile skins, leopard and lion furs and two huge claws.

Vladimir Putin

The look of love.

According to Russian opposition groups one of the toilets aboard one of the jets in the president’s private fleet costs $75,000: for that amount of money, it must be made out of gold. Tallies by the Associated Press estimate that Vladimir Putin’s lifestyle - including upkeep on four yachts and 43 planes - costs £1.6 billion a year.

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