BERLIN (AFP/Reuters) - Greece is seen as the most corrupt country in the EU, Transparency International said Wednesday, adding that crisis-hit nations are being held back by an inability to deal with graft.

Publishing its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, the Berlin-based watchdog ranked Greece 94th out of 176 countries.

Perceived corruption in the country appeared to have worsened despite efforts to tackle graft. In last year’s index, the debt-ravaged country was ranked 80th on a scale of least corrupt to most corrupt. Fellow eurozone struggler Italy also fared poorly, coming in 72nd - a decline from last year’s study when the country was ranked 69th.

The director of Transparency International (TI) in Germany, Edda Mueller, told a news conference that the fight against corruption was intimately linked to the economic health of a country. “The countries that are hardest-hit by the financial crisis have performed below expectations despite the reform efforts of recent months,” Mueller said. Corruption levels in a country are “closely linked to the economic stability of a country,” she added. “Therefore battling corruption is not just a moral necessity but it has a direct impact on the economic and political strength of a country,” she added. TI ranks countries on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean).

Top of the class this year were Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, each with a score of 90 due to a “strong access to information systems and rules governing the behaviour of those in public positions.” Lawless Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan remain rooted to the foot of the table, each scoring eight points. Afghanistan scored poorly despite efforts to tackle rampant corruption.

In these three countries, “the lack of accountable leadership and effective public institutions underscore the need to take a much stronger stance against corruption,” TI stressed.

The results of the survey show that “societies continue to pay the high cost of corruption,” Labelle added. Among other major nations, the United States came in 19th, just behind Japan and Britain, which were ranked equal 17th.

China was well below the 50-point mark, coming in 80th with a score of 39. Russia was in 133rd place with a meagre 28 points. Germany was 13th with 79 points, ahead of fellow European powerhouse France, which was 22nd with 71 points.

Meanwhile, Egypt has slid in a global league table of perceived official corruption in the past year, and the “Arab Spring” revolutions have yet to produce serious anti-graft action across the region, Transparency International said on Wednesday.

In its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, the anti-graft organisation said Egypt had fallen six places to 118th out of 176 countries as levels of bribery, abuse of power and secret dealings remain high in the Arab world’s most populous nation.

Tunisia slipped two places to 75th while Morocco, which experienced less turmoil, fell eight spots to 88th. Syria, which is engulfed in a civil war, tumbled 15 places to 144th but Libya managed an improvement from a very low base, rising to 160th from 168th.