U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron named Nigeria and Afghanistan among “the most corrupt countries in the world” in a conversation with Queen Elizabeth II and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby on the eve of a visit by the leaders of the two countries.
Cameron, whose remarks were captured on video and broadcast by ITV News, was speaking to the queen about an anti-corruption summit to be held in London on Thursday. His office later said he did not regret the remarks and that the leaders of Afghanistan and Nigeria have themselves acknowledged their nations’ problems with corruption.
“We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain,” Cameron is heard telling the queen during an event at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday to mark her 90th birthday. “Nigeria and Afghanistan are possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”
Welby then joined the conversation to point out that “this particular president” is not corrupt, though it’s not clear if he meant Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria or Afghanistan’s Ashraf Ghani. “He’s trying very hard,” Cameron agreed. Buhari and Ghani have written chapters in a book being published to coincide with the anti-corruption meeting, Cameron’s office said.
Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as the third-most corrupt country in the world, just behind Somalia and North Korea, in its 2015 index of 175 nations. Nigeria fares better, ranking equal 31st-most corrupt along with Tajikistan and Comoros.
“Both leaders have been invited to the summit because they are fighting against corruption in their countries and the U.K. stands shoulder-to-shoulder with them as they do so,” Cameron’s spokesman, Dan York-Smith, told reporters in London. “Both presidents have acknowledged, in the collection of essays being published alongside the summit, that there is an issue with corruption in their countries.”
The prime minister was aware the cameras were there, but York-Smith denied suggestions that he had used the Queen’s birthday event for a staged intervention to draw attention to the summit.
It is not the first time that Cameron has been caught on camera making unguarded comments involving the queen. After the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, he was forced to apologize after he was overheard saying she had “purred down the line” at the news that the U.K. would not be broken up.