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It’s not every day that a pair of sunglasses causes your downfall. But that’s what happened to Bjørnar Moxnes, a Norwegian left-wing party leader who was caught on camera stealing a pair of luxury sunglasses from Oslo airport.
“A lot of people have asked me how I could do something so stupid. I’ve asked myself that many times in recent weeks. I don’t have an adequate explanation,” Moxnes wrote on Facebook.
In honor of Moxnes’ fall from grace, POLITICO brings you some of the most embarrassing resignations in European politics (and there were a lot to choose from). From sex scandals to misused government funds to petty theft, here are 11 of the most shameful examples with a facepalm ranking from 1 (yikes, that’s embarrassing) to 5 (dear lord, what have you done?).
UK Conservative MP Neil Parish resigned after being caught watching porn in the House of Commons chamber in 2022. Parish claimed it was a “moment of madness” and said he chanced upon the offending adult content accidentally while Googling tractors, only to later admit that he did then look at actual porn (it’s unclear if the porn involved tractors).
Parish admitted in an interview that his wife always found him “oversexed.” He added that she would tell him “I’ll get the scissors to you if you don’t behave yourself. Snippety, snip” if he got “a little too amorous.” A classic case of TMI.
Cuban cigars and a private jet
When Haiti was hit by an earthquake in 2010, French Development Minister Alain Joyandet was ready to help. To get to an international aid conference held in Martinique, Joyandet hired a private jet worth a cool €116,500 — not a great look. He resigned after the scandal hit the headlines.
Joyandet was not the only minister found to have wasted taxpayer money under former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Junior minister Christan Blanc came under fire for buying €12,000 worth of Cuban cigars using public cash. Alas, Blanc couldn’t remember who had smoked them all. “I smoke two a day … that’s the maximum,” he said. Who consumed the remaining thousands of euros worth of cigars? he was asked. “I don’t know.”
Former French Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac used to be a strong advocate against overseas tax havens. You’ll never guess what he was later found guilty of. It was tax fraud! Of course it was. Cahuzac’s illegal fiscal activities were first made public in a 2012 investigation by news site Mediapart, which reported he had failed to declare money kept in a Swiss bank account for close to 20 years. Oops! The Panama Papers confirmed that Cahuzac also owned a company in the Seychelles. He was sentenced to two years in prison for money laundering and tax fraud.
There was some good news that came out of this case, the creation of an ethics body, the Haute Autorité de la Transparence pour la Vie Publique.
The City of Light — and graphic sex messages
The 2020 race to be mayor of Paris was riddled with internal feuds and party rivalry. And then Benjamin Griveaux — the La République En Marche candidate and one of Emmanuel Macron’s biggest supporters — made everyone forget all about it as he was hit with allegations that he sent graphic videos to an unidentified woman. Screenshots of sexually explicit messages attributed to Griveaux — married with three children — went viral, prompting the candidate to step down. “I don’t want to expose myself and my family anymore when any sort of attack is allowed, it goes too far,” Griveaux said in a statement, perhaps ill-advisedly using the word “expose.” The sexually explicit content was published on a blog registered by Russian artist and activist Piotr Pavlenski. In an added twist, one of those who spread the graphic videos widely on social media was MP Joachim Son-Forget, who in 2021 had his Twitter account suspended for impersonating Donald Trump!
From a fake Russian with love
Austrian Deputy Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache thought he was going on a nice vacation in Ibiza, where he met a woman claiming to be a wealthy Russian citizen who said she wanted to invest in Austria. The woman offered to buy a 50 percent stake in Austria’s Kronen-Zeitung newspaper and switch its news line to push the agenda of Strache’s far-right Freedom Party. In turn, Strache said he could award her public contracts. Alas for Strache, she was not a wealthy Russian at all. He later tried to justify his actions by saying it was “a drunken night” and he was in whatever “intimate vacation mood” is!
The ensuing scandal — dubbed “Ibiza-gate” — brought down Sebastian Kurz’s government. To be fair to Strache, let those of us who haven’t tried to trade public contracts for party donations from a woman we believed to be the wealthy niece of a Russian oligarch cast the first stone.
25 naked men and a whole lot of drugs
Hungarian MEP József Szájer had one of the wildest exits from office in recent memory. A senior member of the Fidesz party, known for its conservative views and its anti-LGBTQ stance, Szájer was caught attending a lockdown-busting party in Brussels in 2020. Police found 25 naked men at the gathering, according to Belgian media reports, and a passerby reported seeing a man fleeing along the gutter, leading the police to apprehend Szájer and find narcotics in his backpack, prosecutors said. Viktor Orbán called the deed “unacceptable and indefensible” and Szájer quit the party and his post in Brussels. For some reason, there is not a statue of Szájer in Brussels.
Skin in the game
Five years before Moxnes and the Hugo Boss sunglasses, regional head of Madrid Cristina Cifuentes made headlines when old footage circulated showing her allegedly stealing anti-aging cream. The incident was an “involuntary error,” said Cifuentes, who was released after paying for the €40 cream. But as the shoplifting scandal broke on the tail of a news site accusing her of lying about her graduate degree, Cifuentes stepped down from her role.
Grabbing a bite to eat
In yet another shoplifting scandal, a Slovenian MP lost his job after stealing a sandwich from a shop in Ljubljana. Darij Krajcic reportedly told his colleagues he became annoyed when supermarket employees ignored him and decided to conduct what he called a “social experiment” to test the shop’s security. While the theft went unnoticed, pressure from colleagues led to his resignation — and to him paying back the cost of the sandwich.
EU mass exodus
Of all the embarrassing resignations on this list, this is the one with the most people involved. In 1999, the entire European Commission led by Jacques Santer resigned after a scathing committee report found it guilty of “corruption, misuse of power and fraud.” The 140-page report by independent experts looked at charges of widespread fraud, nepotism, and corruption in the Commission. One of the commissioners at the center of the storm, former French Prime Minister Edith Cresson, was heavily criticized for hiring friends and relatives, including her local dentist, to well-paid positions. The dentist, René Berthelot, did not get his teeth into the adviser role he was given, and produced only a 24-page document during his 18-month stint working for the EU.
Got any snus?
John Dalli, the EU commissioner for health, resigned in 2012 after an anti-fraud inquiry linked him to an attempt to influence tobacco legislation. A Dalli aide called Silvio Zammit was accused of trying to obtain a whopping €60 million from a tobacco company called Swedish Match to reverse an EU ban on snus, a type of smokeless tobacco that can make the user look like they are gargling bin juice. Dalli claimed he was dismissed by the Commission chief at the time, José Manuel Barroso, and took him to court. In 2019, the EU’s General Court rejected Dalli’s claim for compensation for damages he claims he suffered as a result of losing his job.
The PM, the spy services, his wife and his lover
In 2013, Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas resigned after his chief of staff, Jana Nagyova, was charged with corruption and abuse of power. Among the crimes, Nagyova was accused of bribing former MPs, but what made headlines was her illegal use of the secret service. It turns out that Nagyova, who was having an affair with Necas at the time, allegedly used military intelligence to spy on the prime minister’s wife. Needless to say, this particular resignation was followed by a divorce. But it wasn’t long before Necas and Nagyova had a happy ending, getting married soon after.