Madame Dictator: Four Greedy Wives of Shameless Heads of State
When Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution came steamrolling to the presidential palace gates, Leila Trabelsi, former hairdresser and current wife of ousted head of state Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, grabbed what she needed to survive.
Like 1.5 tons of gold.
Clinging to her opulent identity like a rabid peacock, the first lady reportedly plundered Tunisia's reserves and made off with $65 million in gold ingot. She loaded the loot onto her "shopping plane," bid a fond farewell to the riots racking her beleaguered nation, then fled to exile in Saudi Arabia.
The first lady didn't travel light; while Tunisia's ordinary citizens were mired in poverty and unemployment, Trabelsi amassed a personal net of $5.5 billion, which she kept far away in French banks, out of the public's grubby hands.
In her grand exit, Trabelsi earned a rank among a select few first ladies who lived high above the little folk they were sworn to serve. Should a common taxpayer need something from these queens of profligacy, they'd better get in line behind Ferragamo, Fendi and Christian Dior.
Imelda Marcos: Behind every great dictator and his weary nation is a woman beset by greed. Case in point: Imelda Marcos.
The well-appointed wife of Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos sat atop a gilded throne while most Filipinos lived on less than $2 a day. Rather than watch her legions suffer, however, Imelda jetted off to the world's fashion capitals for $5 million shopping sprees, outfitting her wardrobe with 1,500 handbags, 1,200 gowns, 35 fur coats, 500 bras, and 3,000 pairs of shoes.
In 1986, the nonviolent EDSA Revolution toppled Ferdinand's regime and ended the Marcos's long reign over the island nation. Imelda fled to Hawaii, leaving behind a shoe collection that epitomized the very worst in official avarice.
Grace Mugabe: Despite the fact her country has the world's highest inflation rate, lowest life expectancy, and one of the cruelest heads of state in her husband, Robert Mugabe, the First Shopper of Zimbabwe is living every style bug's dream.
Grace and her entourage were fixtures in the elite fashion houses of Paris and London, where she was known to spend upward of $150,000 in a single two-hour shopping spree. Nowadays, she's forced to buy her haute couture online; the European Union has barred the Mugabe clan's physical presence due to Robert's human-rights abuses.
In 2008, Mugabe's besieged nation released a $100 trillion banknote to contend with triple-digit inflation. In terms of her country's crippled currency, just one of Grace Mugabe's Jimmy Choo handbags would run over $1 quadrillion Zimbabwean.
Stella Obasanjo: Bedecked in ornaments that threatened to outshine her charitable achievements, "Greedy Stella" strutted across Nigeria with her husband and frequent Fela Kuti target, President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Her nickname stuck from a headline written by a Lagos-based reporter, who chronicled the first lady's sale of government homes to relatives at a steep friends-and-family discount. Rather than dispute the story, Stella flexed her best Lady Macbeth and had the reporter imprisoned.
In the end, keeping up a life in Shangra-La cost Stella more than she could afford; the first lady died under a plastic surgeon's knife in 2005.