The prime minister made the embarrassing remarks before the government’s anti-corruption summit on Thursday, at which Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari, will deliver a keynote address entitled “Why we must tackle corruption together”.
Cameron was overheard telling the monarch that “leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries” would be attending the meeting, before singling out the two nations.
A spokesman for Buhari, who won elections last year vowing to fight corruption, said he was deeply “shocked and embarrassed” by the comments, which he assumed must refer to problems in Nigeria that pre-dated his presidency.
An official in the Afghan embassy described the intervention as “unfair”, arguing the country had made important progress in this area.
The reasons for such comments among others was the Transparency International, which monitors corruption worldwide, said in its most recent index, published in 2015, that Afghanistan was the 166th least corrupt nation, above only North Korea and Somalia. Nigeria was in 136th place.
But Cobus de Swardt, the managing director of Transparency International, said that while it was true that the countries had high levels of corruption, both leaders had sent “strong signals” that they want things to change.
Others rounded on the British government, arguing that it needed to focus on its own challenges. Robert Palmer of Global Witness said the Nigerian and Afghan leaders “are not helped by the secrecy sold by UK tax havens or the army of lawyers and bankers from places like London willing to handle stolen money or look the other way – we must get our own house in order too”.