Apparently a lot has changed since Shakespeare wrote in "Hamlet" that "something is rotten in the state of Denmark." An independent survey of 85 nations rates Denmark the least corrupt.

The United States ended up in a 17th-place tie with Austria.Cameroon ranked last.

The results, based on the views of international businessmen and other experts, was compiled and released Tuesday by the Berlin-based Transparency International, which seeks to educate citizens around the world about the impact of government corruption on national development.

Ranking just below Denmark were, in order, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand and Canada. Just above Cameroon at the bottom, were Paraguay, Honduras, Tanzania and Nigeria.

About half the countries of the world were omitted from the survey because of the absence of reliable data. This year's "corruption perception index" surveyed 85 countries compared with 52 last year.

The countries were ranked on the basis of scores assigned to each one. Frank Vogl, Transparency International vice chairman, told a news conference the scores were more important than the rankings.

He noted even though China dropped from 41st place last year to 52nd place this year, its score improved from 2.8 to 3.5. Part of the decline in ranking was attributed to the fact that many more countries were surveyed this year.

Denmark's score was 9.94 out of a possible 10; Cameroon's score was 1.4.

Vogl acknowledged that a shortcoming of the survey is that it merely points out the governments that accept bribes as opposed to the companies that offer them.

He said Transparency International may begin publishing a "corruption propensity index" aimed at rating companies based on their willingness to pay bribes.

According to the survey, the United States dropped slightly from 16th place last year to the 17th place tie this year. The U.S. score dropped from 7.6 to 7.5.

The United States may have been ranked lower than some other industrialized countries, Vogl said, because the American press is adept at ferreting out stories about corruption.

He also praised the United States for being the only country with a law that makes corrupt practices illegal. He noted that in some countries, bribe payment is a tax deductible item.

Vogl said the best remedies to corruption are an independent judiciary, a free press and transparency in government procurement programs. He added that international investors are far more likely to do business in honest countries than in corrupt countries.

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Additional Information

Best and worst

Rankings of the 1998 Transparency International survey on corruption. Countries perceived as least corrupt are listed first

The best

1. Denmark

2. Finland

3. Sweden

4. New Zealand

5. Iceland

6. Canada

7. Singapore

8. Netherlands

8. Norway (tie)

10. Switzerland

The Worst

75. Vietnam

76. Russia

77. Ecuador

77. Venezuela (tie)

79. Colombia

80. Indonesia

81. Nigeria

81. Tanzania (tie)

83. Honduras

84. Paraguay

85. Cameroon