Although Hollywood might have us believe that criminal organizations are composed of lovable mobsters with Italian accents who say things like Eh, fhuggetaboutit, the reality is that organized crime syndicates operate in every country on the planet, and the bigger they grow, the more brutal they become. Few communities on earth are untouched in some way by organized crime, whether its the extortion racket that shakes down local merchants or the drugs that trickle down from global cartels into the hands of street gangs.
The following article presents the top 10 criminal organizations worldwide, along with their home base, alleged criminal activities, and when possible or available, the current boss of the organization.
No.10 The Five Families
Home base: United States
Criminal activities: Bookmaking, loan-sharking, extortion, gambling, drug trafficking
Boss: Vincent Basciano, Nicholas Corozzo, Carmine Persico, Daniel Leo, Vittorio Amuso
The five mafia crime families out of New York – Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese – have controlled much of organized crime in the U.S. since the 1930s, but these days they arent remotely what they used to be, thanks to an extended and devoted effort on the part of law enforcement to shut them down. Of the five, the Genovese family is the largest and most powerful. The U.S. “La Cosa Nostra” was founded by the notorious Lucky Luciano, himself a member of the Sicilian mafia who came to the U.S. in the 1920s, and brought much of the mafias structures and practices with him.
No.9 United Bamboo
Home base: Taiwan
Criminal activities: Debt collection, contract killing, loan-sharking, gambling, bribery
Believed to be Taiwans top triad, with as many as 10,000 members, United Bamboo operates according to a decidedly old-school code of ethics that stresses unity among members as well as harmony with the people.
Although they have repeatedly denied it, United Bamboo is believed to be entrenched in drug trafficking, and their sphere of influence stretches into the KMT, Taiwans ruling political party, as well as throughout Asia, the Pacific, Europe, and the Americas. Unlike other syndicates, United Bamboo is not overseen by a single boss, but rather has a more horizontal structure to its hierarchy.
No.8 Tijuana Cartel
Home base: Northern Mexico (Tijuana and Baja)
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking, contract killings, bribery, racketeering
Boss: Eduardo Arellano Felix
The fall of the Colombian cartels in the 1990s created a vacuum that three Mexican cartels have more than adequately filled. Specifically, they are the Sinaloa cartel, headed by Joaquin Guzman; the Juarez cartel, headed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes; and the Tijuana cartel, probably headed by Eduardo Arellano Felix.
The DEA regards the Tijuana cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO), as the most violent and aggressive among the three, and turf wars between the three have cost hundreds of lives over the last decade.It is believed that the AFO hands out as much as $1 million a week in bribes to stay in business.
No.7 Dai Huen Jai
Home base: China
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking, loan-sharking, human-trafficking, fraud, counterfeiting, prostitution, fraud, human trafficking
The Dai Huen Jai are a curious product of Mao Zedongs Cultural Revolution; on Maos death much of the paramilitary Red Guard were sent to re-education camps, where they suffered horrendous abuse and emerged even more corrupt than when they went in. Unlike most organized crime syndicates, the Dai Heun Jai seems to lack formal organization; in fact, theyve been compared to men meeting up for a pickup basketball game. The members are as mysterious as they are notorious, and are believed to be spread in loose confederations throughout Asia, the Americas and Australia.
No.6 Sicilian Mafia
Home base: Sicily
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking, political corruption, arms trafficking, contract killing, arson, fraud, counterfeiting
Boss: Matteo Messina Denaro (reputed)
Organized by territory and featuring as many as 100 families, the Sicilian mafia dates back to the middle of the 19th century, but didnt assume its criminal identity until the early part of the 20th century. When Lucky Luciano exported the mafia to the U.S. in the 1930s, their criminal base expanded exponentially, and even today theyre believed to have as many as 2,500 American affiliates.
In Sicily, they came to power and wealth through control of building contracts and soon became a major player in heroin and gun trafficking. Although today they have been challenged by other Italian syndicates, the assassinations of two Italian magistrates in the 1990s reminded everyone that the Sicilian mafia is still a force to be reckoned with.
Home base: Hong Kong
Criminal activities: Extortion, contract killing, kidnapping, gambling, prostitution, loan sharking, human trafficking, counterfeiting, drug trafficking
The 14K is one of the largest traditional triads in Hong Kong, and in the 1990s, it was regarded as the largest in the world until a high-profile criminal trial in Portugal brought down the alleged head of a 14K cell. The organization is believed to have spread into other parts of Asia and to have established itself in a number of major North American cities. No criminal activity seems to be beneath them, as it has been accused of virtually everything under the sun.
Home: India and the United Arab Emirates
Criminal activates: Arms dealings, drug trafficking, terrorism, extortion, counterfeiting, contract killings
Boss: Dawood Ibrahim
D-Companys criminal empire is lead by Dawood Ibrahim, an internationally wanted man whose activities go from extortion up to alleged terrorist acts that include the 1993 Bombay bombings, which killed 257 people and injured over 700. Ibrahim has celebrity status in the region, having worked his way into the Bollywood film industry, both socially and professionally. According to the U.S. Treasury, Ibrahim has ties to al-Qaida and the Taliban, and is believed to be hiding out in Pakistan. It is also believed that hes had plastic surgery to change his appearance, although theres little he can do about his height of 54.
Home base: Calabria (Southern Italy)
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking, contract killings, extortion
Boss: Horizontal hierarchy – rule by assembly
At 10,000 members and growing, and with annual revenues in the tens of billions of dollars, Italys Ndrangheta has emerged as the countrys most powerful cocaine trafficking operation and a major European supplier according to a report released by the Italian parliament’s anti-mafia commission.
Their success is likened to fast food restaurants in how they offer the identical, recognizable, reliable brand, and the same criminal product. They maintain loyalty through family ties and a lack of centralized leadership, giving them a leg up on the likes of the Sicilian Cosa Nostras more vulnerable hierarchy.
Home base: Kobe, Japan
Criminal activities: Extortion, gambling, gunrunning, prostitution, drug trafficking, loan-sharking
Boss: Shinobu Tsukasa (real name: Kenichi Shinoda)
The Kobe-based Yamaguchi-gumi dates back to 1915, but owes its current status as Japans largest and most powerful yakuza (criminal syndicate) to ultra-violent mastermind Kazuo Taoka, the organizations longtime oyabun. In fact, his death in 1981 was sufficiently profound to shake the groups foundations.
Today, the Yamaguchi-gumis membership is estimated at around 40,000 and is led by its sixth don, the diplomatic – but no less violent – Shinobu Tsukasa, who took over in 2005. Tsukasa is attempting to lead the organization north toward Tokyo, despite his imprisonment for possessing a firearm.
No.1 Solntsevskaya bratva
Home base: Moscow, Russia
Activities: Extortion, drug trafficking, auto theft, trafficking in stolen art, money laundering, contract killings, arms dealing, trading nuclear material, prostitution, oil deals
Boss: Sergei Mikhailov
Former FBI Special Agent Bob Levinson called the Russian mafia the most dangerous people on earth, a terrifying notion when you consider that their ranks may be as many as 300,000 strong, and spread across 450 groups.
Chief among them is Moscow-based Solntsevskaya bratva, an extraordinarily wealthy and ruthless syndicate reputedly run by its founder, Sergei Mikhailov, a man both hardened by years in the gulags and especially connected thanks to the criminals he met there, which include reputed don Semion Mogilevich, among others.