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Corrupt Bureaucrat

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"Enter the bureaucrat: the true rulers of the Republic. And on the payroll of the Trade Federation, I might add. This is where Chancellor Valorum's strength will disappear."
Senator Palpatine (AKA Darth Sidious), Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace

We've all heard about them: Lazy, incompetent, always passing the buck, and more than willing to accept a bribe to "speed things up". This character type exists somewhere in the overlap between Punch Clock Villains and Obstructive Bureaucrats. They are only lazy and incompetent when it serves their goal of not getting any work done, however. If someone threatens their position or privileges, they forget about laziness and incompetence and become relentless in abusing their power. They are not above committing murder itself, or crossing the Moral Event Horizon in any other way, if their cushy jobs are at risk or they have the object of their ambition within reach.

This type of villain usually does not belong to the aristocracy or get power from money or businesses. Instead, the power comes from a position in the government (usually obtained through personal favors rather than merits or hard work). Compare Dirty Cop.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Yoki from Fullmetal Alchemist was a corrupt State Military official in charge of a mining town who horrendously taxed and oppressed the inhabitants before being stopped by the Elric brothers.

    Comedy Sketches 

    Fan Works 
  • Apotheosis (MHA): The Hero Public Safety Commission is more concerned about protecting heroes and appearing competent than actually protecting the public they're supposed to serve. After Izuku establishes the Hero Regulation Department, many of their abuses of power come to light, such as:
    • Covering for Endeavor's Domestic Abuse. They were perfectly aware of it but covered it up due to his high rate of solved cases and fear that, with his poor temperament and highly destructive Quirk, he'd become a villain. When the Prime Minister found out, he was understandably furious.
    • Refusing financial aid to injured and/or crippled heroes unable to continue hero work. Tensei Iida was offered exo-legs that would allow him to walk again, but the technology was expensive even for the Iidas. His application for financial aid, however, was rejected because the technology wasn't advanced enough to let him be a hero again. While a person could justify this alone on pragmatism and budgeting, it would be debased by the fact that they later used the money to pay off business owners whose properties were burned down by the aforementioned Endeavor in a villain fight.
  • In Avenger of Steel, Alexander Pierce, as in canon, is already planning how to eliminate the Avengers and Superman because they don't fit his view of how the world should be run under HYDRA.
  • In Flash Fog, Pencil Pusher's boss Greg is an incompetent Jerkass who delegates the work to Pencil Pusher, yet is highly corrupt to the point he tries to sabotage Fluttershy's efforts to deal with the fog just to "win" at office politics.
  • In Origins, how else do you think Cerberus got their hands on cloaking devices and superlasers? Those parts don't just ship themselves! May have something to do with human supremacists in the Band of Brothers.

    Film — Animated 
  • Wakko's Wish has Baron von Plotz, an avaricious tax collector who taxes the citizens of Acme Falls so heavily that the town suffers massive poverty and economic deflation. Moreover, it's strongly implied he takes the lion's share of the revenue for himself.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Louis in Casablanca is a sympathetic example. He is corrupt enough, but this is acceptable from an American point of view since he works for France.
  • Casino Royale (2006) opens with James Bond confronting a corrupt senior intelligence officer. Played with in the fact that M had no problem with the officer taking advantage of his position to make money until he crossed the line by dealing in state secrets.
  • The main antagonist of Leviathan (2014) is a mayor of a northern Russian town who is seeking to seize the protagonist's home and land.
  • Rollercoaster: The head of the health & safety agency that Harry works for once let a poorly designed building go up because his nephew was one of the builders.
  • At the beginning of Solo, young Han and his girlfriend Qi'ra are on the run from the mob and trying to escape off-world, they convince a customs official to let them in without the proper papers by giving her a vial of hyperdrive fuel that Han stole. She accepts it, but shuts the gate once enforcer chasing them shows up, leaving Qi'ra to get caught. The novelization by Mur Lafferty also includes a section from the official's point of view, and how she justifies the "presents" she accepts on the job to herself.
  • Judge Turpin from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street abuses his position as a powerful judge to send an innocent man to prison so that he could rape his beautiful wife, and then perform Wife Husbandry on the daughter.

  • Three contractors are bidding to fix a broken fence at the White House in D.C. One from New Jersey, another from Tennessee, and the third from Florida. They go with a White House official to examine the fence. The Florida contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. "Well", he says, "I figure the job will run about $900: $400 for materials, $400 for my crew and $100 profit for me." The Tennessee contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, "I can do this job for $700: $300 for materials, $300 for my crew and $100 profit for me." The New Jersey contractor doesn't measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers, "$2,700"The official, incredulous, says, "You didn't even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?" The New Jersey contractor whispers back, "$1000 for me, $1000 for you, and we hire the guy from Tennessee to fix the fence." "Done!", replies the government official.
  • An old joke from Germany: Two civil servants encounter each other in a ministry corridor. One asks the other, "So you also have trouble sleeping?"
  • A bureaucrat is about to get robbed. "Give me all your money!" yells the robber. "I don't have any," says the bureaucrat, "I'm a civil servant." "Alright..." sneers the robber, "then give me all of my money!"
  • An Indonesian joke:
    An Indonesian man died and got to heaven. At the Pearly Gates, he saw a display of clocks with labels on them denoting different countries, the kind like you would normally see at airports to tell you what the different timezones are. However, he noticed that the clocks were spinning at different paces. Intrigued, he asked a nearby angel about the clock wall.
    "Oh, that's the world's honesty clock. The more transparent and honest a nation's government is, the slower the clock spins. Likewise, the more corrupt and dishonest a country's government is, the faster the clock spins," explained the angel.
    "Ooh, I see! That's why the Sweden clock is barely moving. However, I've noticed that the Congo clock is spinning quite rapidly! That makes sense," the Indonesian man observed.
    The Indonesian man then looked around and noticed one clock was missing: Indonesia. He then asked the angel about it. "Excuse me, where's the Indonesian clock?"
    The angel answered, "Oh, the Indonesian clock? It spins so fast we use it as a blower in the kitchen! Works like a treat!"

  • Zig-zagged with Sakamochi from Battle Royale. As the administrator of the Program, he initially comes off as a repulsive, sadistic Smug Snake who takes perverse pleasure in watching ninth-graders murder each other. In the end, however, after Kawada appears to have won the Program, Sakamochi confronts him with evidence that he hacked the government, discovered how to disable the students' bomb collars, and was trying to trick them into believing that he betrayed and killed Shuya and Noriko. As they discuss the "morality" of the Program, Sakamochi reveals that while he pulled strings to get his daughter into a prestigious school, he would not use his position to get her out of the Program if her class was chosen. He also tells Kawada that he plans to have him "die from his wounds" to keep his hack from being revealed to the public, in order to gain greater favor with the government. So while Sakamochi appears to be quite corrupt, he apparently genuinely believes in the ideals of the Republic of Greater East Asia.
  • The Eschaton Series: In Iron Sunrise, Madam Chairman initially appears to be a Smug Snake Obstructive Bureaucrat with a pathological inability to believe Rachel isn't doing something wrong, somehow. She turns out to be part of the A Nazi by Any Other Name group Rachel's been fighting.
  • In Hallow Mass, Armand Deale, the President of Miskatonic University, accepts a massive bribe from Obed Whateley to help him recover the Necronomicon. He then conceals this information from his faculty, portraying his actions as motivated by nothing but a desire for social justice.
  • Cornelius Fudge from Harry Potter is not above taking bribes from Lucius Malfoy.
  • Governor Golder of I've Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level is very well known for his laziness and incompetence unless it's his personal gain involved, going so far as to frame people for crimes if they don't pay up, or otherwise threaten his cushy position.
  • Beautifully averted in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. At one point, the Galactic Empire has essentially conquered the Free Planets Alliance but has granted it a degree of autonomy. When imperial officers attempt to get anything done, mid-level Alliance bureaucrats block progress by faithfully sticking to rules and regulations rather than caving to pressure. Reinhard commends them for this, openly wondering if the Alliance would be a different place had they been in positions of greater influence and power.
  • Smaller & Smaller Circles: Played with in the case of Attorney Arcinas, an official working in the Philippine NBI. Instead of bribe money, he is more interested in personal fame and popularity, which is why he prefers investigating high-profile crimes, and will only haul his ass on a case if it will make him look heroic and competent in the public eye.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire goes out on a limb to show you that, even with the swords, horses and siege engines... a medieval-based aristocracy is basically this with titles and bloodshed alongside the paperwork, wax-seals, and under-the-table deals. Greasing palms, favors given and received, marriages to seal deals, promissory notes instead of here-and-now taxation (with a cut for you for your trouble) — it all greases the wheels and gets things kind of done. As long as everybody knows the tune and can at least look like they're dancing along. But, some are more willing to use or abuse the system than others. Isn't that right, Houses Lannister, Tyrell, Bolton, and Frey? Or Littlefinger and Varys, if you want less corporate entities willing to corrupt up the bureaucracy nicely. The problem is: when somebody reneges on their deals (or, is only inferred to have done them)... it can get very, very violent well beyond a sternly worded letter delivered by black wings.
  • Spiral Arm:
    • In The January Dancer, running an honest administration causes a revolt because they expect favors, too. (They do insist on your doing the job you accepted a bribe for, though.)
    • Likewise in Up Jim River, a man offers an official a large demonination bill — asking his opinion of the engraving.
  • Subverted in Sword of Truth. Nicci needs to raise a large sum of money to secure Richard's release from the dungeons, which she believes will line the pockets of the bureaucrat in charge of these matters. It turns out that he's honest after all, flatly rejecting this due to being a true believer loyal to the government.
  • Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina: Feltipern Trevagg created new tariffs to line his own pockets, including on the water — on a kriffing desert planet. The barve ends up dead with delicious irony.
  • The Smug Snake Judge Holland P. Frylass in Victoria cooperates with the gangsters in Boston, and protects from the initially non-violent efforts of protagonist John Rumford and his friends to drive them out of their neighborhoods. Faced with this judicial sabotage, they eventually resort to violence and subject the judge to the Tar and Feathers treatment, an event that becomes known as the Second Boston Tea Party.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Yes, Minister: Sir Humphrey wavers on the edge of this. While not out-and-out corrupt, he freely admits to being a moral vacuum with no true political loyalty, merely a dedication to the administration of Great Britain (he points out to Bernard in one episode how, if he were to have displayed any sort of stance on politics during his career, he'd have gone mad from the endless contradictions and shifting political alignments/arguments). However, he also does everything in his power to avoid being held accountable to any decision, and one episode has him assisting a group of bankers. The fact they've promised him a cushy five-figure job with them when he retires is pure happenstance.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia regularly features encounters with these, freely mixed with every other flavor listed above.

    Video Games 
  • Many of the ministers of Jade Empire would certainly qualify, as they are lazy, always accepting bribes, and offering protection to slavers and criminal gangs.
  • Knee Deep: Eula Dean, town planner for Cypress Knee, isn't afraid to violate a few laws to bring an economic boom to her town.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel: Jusis Albarea's father is this. He uses area Provincial soldiers to do his bidding. He even used their butler to place his son under house arrest and used the Kreuzen army to put Machias in prison in Bareahard's guardhouse.
  • The player character in Papers, Please is a customs official at the border to a Ruritania, a job that pays so little that unless the player is ridiculously fast with clearing people, he'll basically have to accept bribes to keep his family from starving.
  • Ragou from Tales of Vesperia is a corrupt governor who kidnaps kids to feed them to the monsters in his basement for amusement. When he is detained after his mansion is destroyed, he escapes all punishment because the witnesses are the party, an ex-knight, an as-of-yet-unrevealed princess, an imperial mage, a Guild member (who are unprotected by imperial law in the Vesperia universe), and a dog while Ragou is on the highest court in the world. He is only stopped when the main character murders him in cold blood.

  • There are hints that most of the upper echelons of the Government in City Under the Hill aren't averse to taking bribes, or are in contact with criminal elements.
  • Chancellor Kilkil from The Order of the Stick. Of course, this is mostly done on the order of General Tarquin, the real ruler of the Empire of Blood.

    Western Animation 
  • Senator Wheiner from Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers fits this trope like a glove. Despite the fact that the Series 5 Rangers are possibly the best weapon the League has against the Crown Empire, he is constantly trying to get it shut down. He's got a massive case of Fantastic Racism against aliens, even their Andorian and Kiwi allies on top of it. But his Moral Event Horizon was crossed well before the series when he was shown to be the politician in charge of the Supertrooper Project. He wanted to bypass the safeguards that Walsh and Nagata put into a project that was highly dangerous and morally questionable at best, declaring they needed soldiers with "no mercy" to fight any alien Earth encountered. He tops it off by releasing Psycho Serum into the barracks, causing the Supertroopers (save Shane) to become super-powerful and riot, killing Nagata in the process. It's also established that Wheiner and Walsh keep each other in check through massive amounts of mutual blackmail.