BERLIN - Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia are seen as the world's most corrupt countries while Denmark and New Zealand are nearly squeaky-clean, graft watchdog Transparency International said in a survey Tuesday.
Worldwide, almost 70 percent of nations are thought to have a "serious problem" with public servants on the take, and none of the 177 countries surveyed this year got a perfect score, said the Berlin-based non-profit group.
Transparency International's annual list is the most widely used indicator of sleaze in political parties, police, justice systems and civil services, a scourge which undermines development and the fight against poverty.
"Corruption hurts the poor most," lead researcher Finn Heinrich told AFP.
"That's what you see when you look at the countries at the bottom. Within those countries, it's also poor people who get hurt the most. These countries will never get out of the poverty trap if they don't tackle corruption."
Among countries that have slipped the most on the group's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index are war-torn Syria as well as Libya and Mali, which have also faced major military conflict in recent years.
"Corruption is very much linked to countries that fall apart, as you see in Libya, Syria, two of the countries that deteriorated the most," said Heinrich.
"If you look at the bottom of the list, we also have Somalia there. These are not countries where the government is functioning effectively, and people have to take all means in order to get by, to get services, to get food, to survive."
Heinrich said Afghanistan, where most NATO-led Western forces are pulling out next year after a more than decade long deployment, is "a sobering story. We have not seen tangible improvements".
"The West has not only invested in security but also in trying to establish the rule of law. But there have been surveys in the last couple of years showing the share of people paying bribes is still one of the highest in the world."
Also at the bottom of the list is North Korea, "an absolutely closed totalitarian society", said Heinrich, where defectors report that famine is worsening corruption "because you have to know someone in the party who is corrupt in order to even survive".