Milieu (organized crime in France)
Primarily, organized crime in France is based in its urban, major cities such as Marseille, Grenoble, Paris, and Lyon. Organized criminals are collectively known as the French Mob and singularly known as les beaux voyous (i.e. "the goodfellas") operating within Le Milieu (French: luh mil-yuh; i.e. "the underworld").[note 1]
|Territory||Marseille, Grenoble, Paris, and Lyon|
|Ethnicity||Predominantly French, Corsican, Arab French, Algerian, and French Blacks|
|Criminal activities||money laundering, prostitution, drug trafficking, arms trafficking, bookmaking, assault, extortion, fraud, murder, fencing, bribery, smuggling, hijacking, counterfeiting and robbery|
|Allies||Varies on criminal group|
|Rivals||Varies on criminal group|
From the 1900s to the late 1930s, activities within Le Milieu were primarily prostitution, bookmaking, fencing, and hijacking. Favored criminal activity in France turned to bank robbery, drug trafficking, and smuggling from 1940 to the late 1970s. The 1980s saw a resurgence of large-scale bank robberies and heists. From 1990 to 2000, criminal organizations established complex extortion rings in Marseille extending to Aix-en-Provence and the greater French Riviera. Since 2002, Le Milieu is known for, in addition to its extortion rings, large counterfeiting and white-collar crime operations. Due to increased financial regulation, Le Milieu has collectively pushed to integrate their crime profits into the legal economy.
France's geographical location makes it an attractive venue for trafficking (i.e. smuggling) and counterfeiting. The port of Marseille is a hub for Le Milieu to move large amounts of product into domestic and European markets. Low economic development continues to be the largest factor in youth joining French criminal organizations.
The most prominent criminal organization within Le Milieu is the Corsican mafia. Although the mafia has encompassed many criminal groups from the 1960s to the 1980s, modern (1990s–present) criminal activity is managed by the Marseille-based Unione Corse and Northern Corsica-based Gang de la Brise de Mer (i.e. "the sea breeze gang"). In 2007, an internal conflict led to the deaths of 102 people on the island of Corsica fracturing the influence of the two larger groups. These two mobs remain powerful as of 2018, often controlling nightclubs, bars, restaurants, apartments, and hotels in Aix-en-Provence, Marseille and the French Riviera. In 2016, it was estimated that France's organized crime net US$23 billon in its underground economy.
The term Milieu literally means middle and figuratively society or environment and refers to the set of criminal figures operating in the French metropolitan areas who are known to the public for being involved in high level organized crime. Members working within the Milieu are collectively known as the French Mob. This category does not include criminal organizations that were formed in another country and operate within France (e.g. the Italian Camorra, Serbian Mafia, Albanian mafia, Chinese Triads, or Turkish Kurd PKK). French mobs considered within the milieu are usually ones with long-standing ties to the country. An increase in youth-centered gang activity lead to the separation of the Milieu.
Due to the early historical connection the Corsican mafia shares with the Sicilian one, the modern structure of most French mobs typically break down into crime families with a strict hierarchy. Usually the goodfellas that carry out "orders" are known as un équipe multi-qualifiée (i.e. a multi-skilled team) composed of les beaux voyous (i.e. "the good fellows"). Most of these groups of members maintain and protect "mouvances" (i.e. territory). Members of the French Mob are highly professional as compared to lower-level crime groups in that they usually split their work by specialty (e.g. some members serve as the "brain", while others the "muscle" and/or "specialist".
- Caïd (French: [kay-id] "the big boss"; "the boss")
- Parrain (French: [pah-rahn] "godfather")
- Spécialiste (French: [speh-sjah-leest] "specialist")
- Associés ("associate")
- Beaux voyous ([bow vwah-yo] "goodfella"; "the good fellows")
- Le Milieu (French: [luh mil-yuh]) "the underworld") / The French Mob: a general term for criminal organizations in France
- Mafia-type criminal organizations (e.g. the Corsican mafia): a criminal organization composed of crime families with structural roots in the Sicilian Mafia
- Gangs (e.g. Rédoine Faïd gang, Gang des postiches): a smaller criminal group with a soft hierarchy
- Crime families (e.g. Carbone crime family): a subset of a mafia-type organization that executes orders and/or missions
Activities and strategiesEdit
- Wholly illegal activity: criminal activities that are blatantly and duly illegal e.g. racketeering, kidnapping, armed robbery, trafficking, assault, etc.
- Associative illegal activity: criminal activities associated with their main wholly illegal activities e.g. bribery, corruption of police officials, tax fraud, grand theft auto, etc.
- Legal activity: activities used to cover up illegal activities e.g. operating a business for money laundering purposes, running gambling machines, restaurants, etc.
Origins: 1910s to 1920sEdit
The history of organized crime in France can be traced to the French Revolution (1789 to 1799). It is however with the turn of the 20th century that local mobsters became highly organized and created crime families. During the 1910s and 1920s, Pigalle and Rue Saint-Denis (in Paris) served as a hub for prostitution. Due to decentralized political control in Corsica during the 1900s, many criminal organizations flourished. Members of these gangs moved from the island of Corsica to the southern coasts of France during the early 20th century. From 1920 to 1930, prostitution was the most important criminal activity controlled by the two Italian-French Godfathers, Paul Carbone and François Spirito.
"French Connection": 1930s to 1970sEdit
During the 1940s and 1950s, many gangs — most notably the Tractions Avant gang – committed large scale bank robberies. During the 1970s, the most powerful gang in Paris was the Zemmour crime family, a Jewish/pied noir clan. The Zemmour brothers controlled prostitution in the French capital and were considered to be Godfathers of Paris. As prostitution decreased, criminal activities turned to more white-collar crimes. In 1930, the two godfathers spearheaded the French Connection – a global heroin smuggling ring reaching its peak in the 1960s and 1970s. Drugs were smuggled from Turkey to France and then to the United States through Canada. The French Connection was guided by various crime families into the late 1970s before it was disbanded by French authorities. The "Milieu of Marseille" (i.e. "the underworld of Marseille") was left without political leadership after the French Connection was destroyed. The Unione Corse established widespread infrastructure in the 1930s and helped guide the Milieu out of the French Connection era.
"The Godfathers of Paris": 1980sEdit
During the 1980s, many "godfathers" (e.g. Tany Zampa, Jacky Imbert, and Francis Vanverberghe) fought for control over racketeering and drug trafficking in the port area of the city. It was during this time that the Zemmour brothers — known as "The Godfathers of Paris" — were killed. Claude Genova quickly assumed the gap the brothers left and continued running low-level prostitution rings until his 1994 assassination. The Gang des postiches robbed nearly 30 banks during their run from 1981 to 1986. Claude Genova's connections and infrastructure was overtaken by the Hornec brothers in 1994.
Push to extortion: 1990–2000Edit
At the start of the 1990s, cities were split up by families or "godfathers" (parrains). Larger cities, however, were fractured into various "mouvances" (territories). The 20 arrondissements of Paris were fought over by Corsican godfathers such as Jean-Paul Stefani and Ange Saliceti. Many of these crime families established complex extortion rings in Marseille extending to Aix-en-Provence and the greater French Riviera.
The Rédoine Faïd gang, during the mid-1990s committed armed robbery, jewel theft, and extortion in the Paris area. The leader of the gang, Rédoine Faïd, was arrested in 2011. He broke out of prison on 13 April 2013 with a staged bombing and fled, but was captured on 29 May 2013.
Minority members of French society are being lured into crime families as a way of "fitting in". Low economic growth in the south of France is also leading youth to join the ranks as drug mules to gain an income alternative. An increase in youth-centered gang activity lead to the separation of the Milieu. Since the 1990s, the French Corsican mafia (Milieu corso-marseillais has encompassed the newer, modern criminals in an effort to distinguish them from the "traditional Milieu" (1930s to 1980s).
During the early 2000s, French Maghrebis (Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans) living in impoverished suburbs created the Les Caïds des Cités (i.e. "rent-controlled housing crime lords"). Members of this group extort landlords in most major French cities. In August 2012, Les Caïds became involved in drug and weapons trafficking which led to the death of 14 civilians.
Inter-gang fighting led to a spike in murder rates on the island of Corsica in 2008. In 2010, The "Venzolasca Gang" penetrated large amounts of territory previously occupied by the Brise de Mer Gang.
In 2011, it was reported that various North African gangs had moved to the suburbs of Paris in order to sell crack cocaine. Members of these gangs introduced heroin and pure cocaine to their business operations in 2015. On 18 October 2011, a large holding of art was stolen from the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Ajaccio, Corsica, by the Valinco, Brise de Mer, and Venzolasca gangs.
In 2014, there was also an influx of "Voyageurs" or "Traveller" gangs in Paris, Marseille, Grenoble, and Montpellier. The most famous of them is the Hornec crime family; they regularly participate in robberies, extortion, drug trafficking, prostitution, and illegal slots machines. Their hubs of operation are in the Camargue and the Étang de Berre regions.
List of French mobsEdit
|†||Mob and crime family|
|Gang des postiches||Paris||bank robberies||1981 and 1986|
|Bonnot Gang†||All major cities||racketeering||1911 to 1912|
|Gang des Tractions Avant||Paris||bank robberies||1915 to 1950s|
|Bande des Trois Canards||Marseille||burglaries, hold-ups and racketeering||1950 to 1965|
|Rédoine Faïd gang†||Paris||armed robbery, jewel theft, and extortion||1990 to 2013|
|Hornec gang†||Paris||racketeering, drug dealing, illegal slot machines||1980–present|
|Unione Corse||Marseille||racketeering, drug dealing, extortion, bank robbery||1920–present|
|Gang de la Brise de Mer||Marseille||racketeering, drug dealing, extortion, bank robbery||1970s–present|
|Les Caïds des Cités||Paris||rent-controlled property extortion, drug trafficking||2000–present|
|Venzolasca Gang||Corsica||racketeering, drug dealing, extortion||2010–present|
|La bande du Petit Bar||Ajaccio||extortion, drug trafficking||2013–present|
List of crime familiesEdit
Crime families in France are smaller units of mobs (i.e. a crime syndicate) which are in-turn either smaller units of a mafia group or the general Milieu. Alternately the phrase "crime family" could also mean the entirety of a mob, if it is small enough. The following list encompasses groups that are solely crime families and do not double as French mobs:
- Unione Corse (Marseille, France and Ajaccio, Corsica)
- Brise de mer gang (Bastia, northern Corsica and France)
- Mariani crime family
- Casanova crime family
- Guazzelli crime family
- Patacchini crime family
- Colonna crime family (southern Corsica)
In popular cultureEdit
- On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1963), James Bond novel wherein a character heads the French Mafia and is of Corsican descent.
- The French Connection (1971), American film on the heroin trade, based on the book of the same name
- Les Brigades du Tigre (2006), French crime film loosely based on the Le Milieu
- In the film American Gangster (2007), the Corsican mafia attempt to murder Frank Lucas after he puts them out of business through his monopoly on the heroin trade in Harlem.
- A Prophet, 2009 French drama film centering on a petty criminal who rises in the Corsican mob
- 22 Bullets (2010), French film based on the leader of the Bande des Trois Canards, Jacky Imbert
- Literally defined as: "middle" or "the environment"
Descriptively defined as "the underworld" i.e. a world outside of the law
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