Tag: Corsican Mafia
BASTIA, France — An alleged key figure in one of Corsica’s most powerful crime families, Maurice Costa of the “Brise de Mer” gang, was gunned down in broad daylight Tuesday at his local butcher shop, police said.
Two masked gunmen shot and killed Costa, 60, at 11:08 am (0908 GMT) through the window of the butcher shop in the village of Ponte-Leccia in the north of the French island, police said.
Police said a single hunting rifle was fired at least twice and that Costa died on the spot after being struck in the chest. The gunmen fled in a car that was later found burned a few kilometres (miles) from the village.
A bystander in the shop was also lightly injured by broken glass, police said.
Costa is the 11th presumed member of the “Brise de Mer” (Sea Breeze) gang killed since 2008 in what local police believe is a settling of accounts between criminal gangs.
The gang, named after a bar in the northeastern Corsican city of Bastia where members allegedly gathered, is considered one of the most powerful and influential criminal organisations on the island.
It is alleged to have carried out a series of daring armed robberies in the 1980s and 1990s.
Among them was Switzerland’s biggest-ever bank robbery — the 1990 theft of 31.4 million Swiss francs (now worth 26 million euros/$32 million) from the Union Bank of Switzerland’s branch in central Geneva. The money was never recovered.
The gang, whose presumed members often denied its existence at trial, was allegedly involved in a wide range of crimes from money laundering to illegal gambling.
Costa was among three alleged “Brise de Mer” members who spectacularly escaped from a Bastia prison in 2001 by having a fake fax ordering their release sent to the facility’s warden.
All three, who were serving time on extortion and weapons charges, were later apprehended and are now dead. Before Costa, one was killed in explosion in 2009, the other gunned down the same year.
The three closures in three weeks suggest that French police have finally decided to end decades of tolerance towards the controversial venues.
Paris’s circles de jeu (gambling clubs) long held a reputation as being money-laundering dens controlled by Corsican gangsters based on the Mediterranean island or in Marseille.
Glamorised in detective novels, they were the subject of epic and bloody disputes between rival organized crime clans, notably in the so-called “gambling wars” of the 1970s. However, in recent years the surviving few were believed to have changed their ways.
Eight were still in operation last month but on Wednesday, about 200 officers from Paris’s judicial police swooped on Le Cercle Wagram and L’Eldo in the city’s 17th and 3rd arrondissements after a year-long investigation into their owners’ allegedly fraudulent practices.
The following day, a second swoop took place in Corsica, in which 30 suspects were arrested.
These included two actors from a TV series called Mafiosa, The Clan, shot on the island, and four retired police officers. About $1.1 million in cash was also seized. Just three weeks earlier, another club, Le Cercle Haussmann, in the 2nd arrondissement was raided and shut and seven people placed under investigation for illegal gambling practices.
After years of relative calm, police believe that the Corsican mafia took renewed interest in the clubs as money-laundering outfits when the venues’ profits started to soar thanks to a recent craze in France for poker.
Police said rival gangs had been fighting for control of the clubs after a spate of killings in Corsica and Marseille that left the long-feared “Brise de Mer” gang fatally weakened.
The first circle opened in Paris in 1907 after casinos were banned from operating within 100km of the French capital.
After the war, France let a number of Corsicans run the clubs for services rendered to the Resistance.
They still operate under a 1901 law that deems them “non-profit” organisations whose stated aims are to promote “social, artistic literary and sporting activities”. Under these archaic rules, they are not required to adhere to strict security measures found in casinos, such as fitting video surveillance cameras over every gaming table – meaning there is no way of keeping tabs on the amounts cashed in.
A police investigator told Le Parisien: “We cannot tolerate seeing practices linked to organized crime go on any longer in these places.”
Among Paris’s five remaining circles is the Aviation Club de France, France’s oldest. The legendary venue on the Champs-Elysees is run by the former head of France’s anti-gangster squad.
François Chiappe, the fearsome Corsican capo-mafia who inspired the famous film “The French Connection” in 1971 died in a geriatric home in the Argentine province of Cordoba last February, according to reports in the Sunday press.
Chiappe took with him the secrets of the Corsican mafia
Chiappe, who was 88 and suffered senile dementia, was living at the elderly home since last December. Nicknamed “thick lips” or “Marcel the Corsican” he begun his crime rampage in 1947 with a bank robbery.
This was followed by drug trafficking, organized prostitution, racketeering, trading in weapons and smuggling operating from Marseilles to United States.
In the late fifties he became a member of the terrorist Organization du Armée Secret, OAS, which fought against the independence of Algiers from France, and was accused of specializing in torturing prisoners.
Born to a poor family in Corsica Chiappe joined the French Army in 1937, and was taken prisoner in 1940, when allegedly he became a Gestapo collaborator, according to a non official biography.
He arrived in Argentina as a stow-away by sea in 1965 and a few years later was imprisoned for an armed robbery at a bank. However in 1973, on the return of civilian rule to Argentina and when political prisoners and guerrillas were set free, he walked away among the crowd. He was later accused of involvement with right wing hit squads that proliferate in Argentina in the seventies.
But he never returned to jail and moved to the sierras of Cordoba where he lived, apparently peacefully, with his Argentine wife. Although he arrived in Argentina as an illegal immigrant at the moment of registering at the elderly home his relatives showed an Argentine passport to his name.