Credit: Andre Borges/NurPhoto via AP

Aleksandr Lukashenko


Belarusian President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko, Europe’s brutal last dictator, has been named 2021’s Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) in recognition of all he has done to advance organized criminal activity and corruption.

A panel of six journalists and scholars who study and report on corruption had no trouble selecting the post-Soviet autocrat, despite a record field of 1,167 nominees. It is the first time in a decade of handing out the Person of the Year global awards that the decision was unanimous.

2021 Finalists for Person of the Year

(Nominations are accepted from readers/listeners, journalists and editors of OCCRP and partner organizations)

Winner: Belarus President Alexsandr Lukashenko


  • Former President of Afghanistan Ashraf Ghani
  • President of Syria Bashar Al-Assad
  • President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan
  • Former Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz

"It was a banner year for corruption, but Lukashenko stood out from the crowd," said Drew Sullivan, a co-founder of OCCRP who served as a judge on the panel.

Over the past year Lukashenko has generated headlines for:

Louise Shelley of George Mason University, another judge on the panel, said that by playing politics with vulnerable people whom he lured to Belarus under false pretenses, Lukashenko had broken new ground in cynicism and cruelty.

The Belarusian leader, Shelley said, "used the criminal and corrupt networks of the Belarussian state to foster a mass migration, leading to desperation, violence and endless cruelty."

Lukashenko, 67, has clung to power in Minsk since 1993, rigging elections, torturing critics, and arresting and beating protesters, all with the aid and approval of the Kremlin. He fashions himself "Batka," the "father" of the Belarusian people. Anyone who challenges that image faces the same fate as dissident Roman Protasevich, who remains behind bars seven months after he was pulled from that Ryanair plane, or Sergei Tikhanovsky, who was just sentenced to 18 years in prison for organizing anti-government demonstrations in 2020.

Lukashenko enjoys unlimited power at home and sniffs at international opprobrium. Indeed, it was EU sanctions against his country that prompted his retaliation via refugees. He seems equally unbothered by the suffering of his own citizens and desperate migrants, including children, shivering, hungry and barred from settling in Belarus.

Runners up for the annual Person of the Year award included deposed Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, Syrian dictator Bashar Hafez al-Assad, Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan, and disgraced Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

"Ghani certainly deserves an award, too. He was breathtaking in both his corruption and his gross incompetence. He deserted his people, leaving them to misery and death so he could live among the corrupt former state officials in the moral cesspool that is the UAE," said Sullivan.

Assad led Syria into a destructive civil war and has stolen hundreds of millions of dollars while clinging to power. Erdogan has overseen a corrupt government that has laundered Chinese funds for Iranian oil using state-owned banks. Kurz was the leader of Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) who, along with nine other politicians and newspaper persons, was accused of embezzlement and bribery.

The Judges


Rawan Damen

Rawan Damen is the director general of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ). She has more than 20 years of experience as a documentary filmmaker and a media consultant. She also worked for 10 years as a senior commissioner at the Al Jazeera Network.


Will Fitzgibbon

Will Fitzgibbon is a senior reporter with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). He is also ICIJ's Africa and Middle East partnership coordinator. Previously, he worked at The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London.


Boyoung Lim

Boyoung Lim is a senior editor at the Pulitzer Center. She formerly worked as a reporter at the Korea Center for Investigative Journalism - Newstapa.


Louise Shelley

Louise Shelley is an author and endowed professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. She is the founder and executive director of the university’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TraCCC).


Drew Sullivan

Investigative journalist and media development specialist. He is the founder of the Center for Investigative Reporting in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the co-founder and editor of OCCRP.


Paul Radu

Award-winning cross-border investigative reporter, co-founder, and director of OCCRP. He is also co-founder of RISE Project, a platform for investigative reporters in Romania.

Previous winners of OCCRP’s Person of the Year Award:


Jair Bolsonaro

2020 Winner: Jair Bolsonaro


Joseph Muscat

2019 Winner: Prime Minister of Malta


Danske Bank

2018 Winner: Bank That Enabled Money Laundering


Rodrigo Duterte

2017 Winner: President of Philippines


Nicolás Maduro

2016 Winner: President of Venezuela


Milo Djukanovic

2015 Winner: Prime Minister of Montenegro


Vladimir Putin

2014 Winner: President of Russia


Romanian Parliament

2013 Winner: Romanian Parliament

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