has been overheard boasting to the Queen that the leaders of “fantastically corrupt” countries are coming to a summit he is hosting this week.
In comments that were caught by a microphone during a reception at Buckingham Palace to celebrate , the prime minister said Nigeria and Afghanistan were two of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Speaking in front of the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, and the cabinet minister Chris Grayling, Cameron said: “We had a very successful cabinet meeting this morning. We talked about our anti-corruption summit. We’ve got ... some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain.
“Nigeria and are possibly two of the most corrupt countries in the world.”
did not respond to Cameron’s comment, turning her head away while he was speaking. However, Welby, who has worked in Nigeria, then said of that country’s leader: “But this particular president is actually not corrupt.”
Welby told the Queen that “he’s trying very hard”.
Bercow then cut in with: “They are coming at their own expense aren’t they?”
“Yes,” responded the prime minister, before adding: “Because it is an anti-corruption summit, everything has to be open so there are no closed door sessions, all in front of the press, so it could be quite interesting.”
Asked whether regretted his comment, a Downing Street spokesman said: “Both leaders have been invited to the summit because they are driving the fight against corruption in their countries. The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with them as they do so.”
The spokesman declined to say whether the Nigerian or Afghan governments had contacted Downing Street following the prime minister’s remarks.
He made clear that the PM was aware that he was being filmed at the time he spoke, telling reporters: “The cameras were very close to him. There were multiple cameras in the room.”
A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: “The royal household does not comment on private conversations between the prime minister and the Queen.”
A spokesperson for Welby said: “The archbishop has no particular view but supports the international anti-corruption summit to combat corruption in all walks of life.”
The leaders of both countries mentioned have acknowledged that they have problems with corruption. Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, and his Nigerian counterpart, Muhammadu Buhari, have contributed to a book, Against Corruption, being published by Cameron .
In his essay, Ghani acknowledges that Afghanistan is “one of the most corrupt countries on Earth”.
Transparency International, a global anti-corruption organisation, publishes an annual , which ranks countries in order of how corrupt they are perceived to be.
In the most recent index, published in 2015, Afghanistan was ranked in 166th place, above only North Korea and Somalia. was in 136th place.
Cobus de Swardt, the managing director of Transparency International, said: “There is no doubt that, historically, Nigeria and Afghanistan have had very high levels of corruption, and that continues to this day.
“But the leaders of those countries have sent strong signals that they want things to change, and the London anti-corruption summit creates an opportunity for all the countries present to sign up to a new era.”
A spokesman for the Afghan embassy said the comments were unfair. “President Ghani and his government since in office have taken major steps to fight corruption. Countering corruption is a top priority along security issues for the National Unity Government.
“We have made important progresses in fighting systematic capture in major national procurement contracts and are making progress on addressing institutional issues as well as issues related to impunity. Therefore calling Afghanistan in that way and taking bold decisions by NUG is unfair,” the spokesman said.
The controversy led the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, along with a cross party group of British MPs, to publish an open letter to the PM. Talking of the UK’s decision to open up public registers that show who really owns UK companies the parliamentarians write: “It has the potential to make the world a better place. But we are deeply concerned that this potential will be left unrealised because of one catastrophic gap: Britain’s Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
“We respectfully submit that if territories under British authority are left free to give safe harbour to publicly anonymous corporations, then Britain’s achievements and credibility in the global anti-corruption movement will be undermined.”
Booker-winning Nigerian author Ben Okri told Channel 4 News: “I’m rather appalled and rather surprised that a leader of an important world nation should be making that kind of remark to the world. I think it sends a very wrong signal out to the world.”