l. “You will be carrying money, of course. And our weapons.”
“Hey, buddy. I want you to know something,” Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán-Loera said to the veteran helicopter pilot who he nicknamed ‘Tinieblo’ (Twilight). The pilot had just arrived in Sinaloa, Mexico from Miami, to begin flying for Guzmán-Loera.
“I’m all ears, Mr. Guzmán,” answered the pilot. He knew his new boss was no saint, but didn’t know much else.
“Do you recognize me?” inquired Guzmán.
“I’m afraid I don’t, sir,” answered the pilot.
“I’m no little angel,” Guzmán said. “But later I’ll tell you the story of a cardinal of the Catholic Church they assassinated, mistaking him for me.”
As Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman awaitsextradition to the United States, he leaves behind what appears to be a new landscape for Mexico’s drug cartels.
Last week, his son, Jesus Alfredo Guzman, was kidnapped by men authorities believe were members of a rival cartel. Sources tell CNN he was released Saturday, but his abduction signals that the game of thrones for Mexico’s next top drug cartel has already begun.
In the wake of the daring prison escape pulled off on July 11 by notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzmán, aka “El Chapo” (shorty), artnet News looked into how big a role art has played in his illicit activities and money laundering.
Cyber crime is grabbing the headlines these days, but the largest criminal gangs are still making most of their money from drugs, sex, and extortion.
It’s tough to go even a few months without seeing the effects of organized crime on the economy and everyday life. The most salient example these days is the rash of thefts of credit card data from big-name retail chains like Home Depot and Target.
While these threats are headline-grabbing and particularly frightening because e-commerce is a relatively new phenomenon and businesses and consumers aren’t totally sure how to protect themselves from hackers, it’s still a drop in the bucket in terms of overall organized crime earnings.
A 2013 survey from Javelin Strategy and Researchestimates that the annual total loss to Americans due to identity theft was roughly $20 billion. But much of those costs comes from efforts to prevent identity theft or recover from its effects, rather than what thieves earn from their crimes.
Compare that to estimates of pure revenue from other forms of organized crime like the drug trade and human trafficking: the Organization of American States estimates that the revenue for cocaine sales in the U.S. has reached $34 billion annually.
When you add the market for other illicit drugs and revenue generators like human trafficking and extortion, it becomes clear that organized crime is still making most of its money from its legacy businesses, despite the fact that criminals are always looking for new ways to make a buck.
So, who are the biggest organized crime gangs around the world and how do they make their money? Organized crime revenues are very difficult to estimate, as criminals often spend a significant amount of time trying to hide what they make.
Also, “organized crime” is a loosely defined concept. Anything from a vast drug smuggling ring to a handful of car thieves can be classified as organized crime groups, and the cohesiveness of organized crime organizations around the world varies widely.
Some groups, like Japan’s Yakuza, are highly organized and hierarchical, allowing economists and crime fighters in Japan to attribute much higher revenue totals to Yakuza groups than others around the world. Here are the top five criminal gangs, ranked by revenue estimates:
1. Yamaguchi Gumi—Revenue: $80 billion
The largest known gang in the world is called the Yamaguchi Gumi, one of several groups collectively referred to in Japan as “Yakuza,” a term that is roughly equivalent to the American use of “mafia.”
The Yamaguchi Gumi make more money from drug trafficking than any other source, according to Hiromitsu Suganuma, Japan’s former national police chief. The next two leading sources of revenue are gambling and extortion, followed closely by “dispute resolution.”
The Yakuza date back hundreds of years, and according to Dennis McCarthy, author of An Economic History of Organized Crime, Yakuza groups are among the most centralized in the world. While other East Asian gangs like Chinese Triads, which are a loose conglomeration of criminals bonded together mostly by familial relations,
Yakuza are bound together by “elaborate hierarchies,” and members, once initiated, must subvert all other allegiances in favor of the Yakuza. Even with the Japanese government cracking down on Yakuza in recent years, this centralized structure has made it easy to attribute a massive amount of revenue to this single gang.
2. Solntsevskaya Bratva—Revenue: $8.5 billion
Russian mafia groups sit on the other side of the organizational spectrum from Yakuza. Their structure, according to Frederico Varese, a professor of criminology at the University of Oxford and an expert on international organized crime, is highly decentralized.
The group is composed of 10 separate quasi-autonomous “brigades” that operate more or less independently of each other. The group does pool its resources, however, and the money is overseen by a 12-person council that “meets regularly in different parts of the world, often disguising their meetings as festive occasions,” Varesi says.
It’s estimated that the group claims upwards of 9,000 members, and that it’s bread and butter is the drug trade and human trafficking. Russian organized crime in general is heavily involved in the heroin trade that originates in Afghanistan: it’s estimated that Russia consumes about 12% of the world’s heroin, while it contains just 0.5% of the world’s population.
3. Camorra—Revenue: $4.9 billion
While the Italian-American mafia has been severely weakened in recent decades by law enforcement, the Italian mafia in the old country is still running strong.
Despite years of efforts from citizens, journalists, and government officials, the local governments in Italy remain linked to and protective of various mafia groups, to the point where a 2013 study from the Università Cattolica and the Joint research Centre on Transnational Crime estimated that mafia activities generate revenue of $33 billion dollars, mostly divided among Italy’s four major mafia gangs.
Camorra is the most successful of these groups, raking in an estimated $4.9 billion per year on everything from “sexual exploitation, firearms trafficking, drugs, counterfeiting, gambling … usury and extortion,” according to the report. And Camorra has been at it a long time.
Based in Naples, the group’s history dates back to the 19th century, when it was formed initially as a prison gang. As members were released, the group flourished during the bloody political struggles in Italy during the 1800s by offering protection services and as a force for political organization among Italy’s poor.
4. ‘Ndrangheta—Revenue: $4.5 billion
Based in the Calabria region of Italy, the ‘Ndarangheta is the country’s second largest mafia group by revenue. While it is involved in many of the same illicit activities as Camorra,
‘Ndrangheta has made its name for itself by building international ties with South American cocaine dealers, and it controls much of the transatlantic drug market that feeds Europe.
It has also been expanding its operations in the U.S. and has helped prop up the Gambino and Bonnano crime families in New York. In February, Italian and American police forces arrested dozens of ‘Ndrangheta and Gambino family members and charged them with crimes related to the transatlantic drug trade.
5. Sinaloa Cartel—Revenue $3 billion
Sianola is Mexico’s largest drug cartel, one of several gangs that has been terrorizing the Mexican population as it serves as the middleman between South American producers of illegal drugs and an unquenchable American market.
The White House Office of Drug Control Policy estimates that Americans spend $100 billion on illegal drugs each year, and the RAND Corporation says that about $6.5 billion of that reaches Mexican cartels.With an estimated 60% market share, Sinola cartel is raking in approximately $3 billion per year.
Despite the fact that Sinaloa’s leader was arrestedFebruary, the cartel seems to have avoided the sort of bloody—and costly—succession battle that has plagued some groups when a leader is taken out of commission.
(Reuters) – Colombian authorities have arrested a Costa Rican man accused of trafficking shipments of cocaine to the United States on behalf of Mexico’s infamous Sinaloa cartel.
Oscar Antonio Berrocal, 52, was detained late on Thursday after arriving in the Colombian capital Bogota on a flight from Ecuador, where he lives.
“Berrocal, known to authorities under the aliases Charlie, the Chef, Finquero and Rolex, is required by U.S. authorities for alleged cocaine trafficking,” migration officials said in a statement. “In Colombia there is a valid order for his arrest and extradition.”
Authorities said Berrocal is accused of coordinating the shipment of large quantities of cocaine to the United States for the Sinaloa cartel, one of the world’s largest drug trafficking organizations, often via smuggling networks in Central America.
The cartel is infamous in Mexico, where its leader Joaquin Guzman, alias ‘El Chapo’, was captured in February after 13 years on the run.
Colombia is a principal producer of cocaine, with an annual output of about 290 tons, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
The country’s once-prolific drug cartels have been weakened by U.S.-backed police offensives over the last two decades and now act mainly as suppliers for Mexican organizations.
CHILAPA, Mexico — For nearly a week, gun-toting masked men loyal to a local drug gang overran this small city along a key smuggling route.
Police officers and soldiers stood by as the gunmen patrolled the streets, searching for rivals and hauling off at least 14 men who have not been seen since.
“They’re fighting over the route through Chilapa,” said Virgilio Nava, whose 21-year-old son, a truck driver for the family construction supply business, was one of the men seized in May, though he had no apparent links to either gang. “But we’re the ones who are affected.”
For years, the United States has pushed countries battling powerful drug cartels, like Mexico, to decapitate the groups by killing or arresting their leaders.
The pinnacle of that strategy was the capture of Mexico’s most powerful trafficker, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, better known as El Chapo, who escaped in spectacular fashion last month from a maximum-security prison.
And while the arrests of kingpins make for splashy headlines, the result has been a fragmenting of the cartels and spikes in violence in places like Chilapa, a city of about 31,000, as smaller groups fight for control.
Like a hydra, it seems that each time the government cuts down a cartel, multiple other groups, sometimes even more vicious, spring up to take its place.
“In Mexico, this has been a copy of the American antiterrorism strategy of high-value targets,” said Raúl Benítez Manaut, a professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico who specializes in security issues.
“What we have seen with the strategy of high-value targets is that Al Qaeda has been diminished, but a monster appeared called the Islamic State. With the cartels, it has been similar.”
While the large cartels are like monopolies involved in the production, transportation, distribution and sale of drugs, experts say, the smaller groups often lack international reach and control only a portion of the drug supply chain.
They also frequently resort to other criminal activities to boost their income, like kidnapping, car theft, protection rackets and human trafficking.
And while the big cartels have the resources to buy off government officials at the national level, the smaller gangs generally focus on the local and state levels, often with disastrous consequences for communities.
That was abundantly clear in a case that stunned the nation last year, when 43 students disappeared in Iguala, a city a short distance from Chilapa.
Government investigators say that the mayor and the police in Iguala were allied with a local drug gang, which murdered the students and burned their bodies. Like here, the disappearances took place amid a fight over territory between local traffickers.
The fracturing of the cartels into smaller gangs requires a very different approach from what is being pursued at the national level, analysts say.
But even after the disappearance of the students made it obvious that fundamental changes were needed, the violence and abductions here in Chilapa have again laid bare the government’s inability or unwillingness to come up with an effective response.
“It’s as if nothing ever happened, as if there hadn’t been any precedent,” said José Reveles, an author of books on drug trafficking.
Successive governments have talked about a vast reform of the country’s police, but their efforts failed to weed out corruption and create professional security forces.
President Enrique Peña Nieto proposed a series of changes last November, including centralizing control of the local police in each state, but that has not been carried out.
All these problems are on agonizing display here in Chilapa.
Residents and government officials say that Chilapa sits astride a route for smuggling marijuana and opium paste that is contested by two gangs.
They ascended after the government succeeded in jailing or killing the leaders of the Beltrán Leyva cartel, which had previously dominated the region.
A group known as the Rojos, or Reds, now controls the city, residents and officials said. But the rural towns nearby are controlled by the Ardillos, whose name is derived from the word for squirrel. Residents have openly accused the mayor of ties to the Rojos, which he denies.
Violence between the groups has been accelerating for months. A candidate for mayor was assassinated in May, a few days after a candidate for governor was menaced by heavily armed men manning a roadblock.
It is common for bodies to be found, sometimes beheaded or with signs of torture. Last month, a beheaded body was left with a note: “Here’s your garbage, possums with tails.” Two days later, seven bodies were found. One was decapitated, with a message cut into the torso: “Sincerely, Rojos.”
Residents say that the gunmen who overran the town on May 9 were led by the Ardillos. The invaders disarmed the local police and began hauling men off.
“They said, ‘Bring us the mayor, bring us El Chaparro,’ ” said Matilde Abarca, 44, referring to the nickname of the head of the Rojos. Ms. Abarca’s 25-year-old son, a fruit seller, was grabbed by a group of masked gunmen, beaten and driven off in a pickup truck.
She said that the gunmen said they would return the abducted residents if the townspeople turned over the Rojos leader. At one point, some residents held a protest march, which the gunmen confronted in a tense standoff.
The occupation occurred even though soldiers and elite federal police officers were stationed in Chilapa because of the rising violence.
But instead of forcing out the invaders, witnesses said the authorities simply stood by while the masked gunmen seized and intimidated residents, a contention supported by photographs and cellphone videos.
Some say that the authorities held back because the invaders claimed to be a community defense force, like those that have sprung up elsewhere to confront traffickers in the absence of government action.
The government has been criticized for repressing similar community defense groups, and the paralysis in Chilapa showed its lack of a coherent strategy for dealing with them. Other residents viewed the government’s passivity as outright complicity with the gangs.
“When they took the people away, there were police and soldiers there, and they did nothing,” said Victoria Salmerón, whose brother, a clothing seller, disappeared during the takeover. “It was as if they were on their side.”
Since the occupation ended on May 14, federal and state police have stayed on hand to keep order, and officials have pledged to investigate the disappearances. But there is virtually no sign of progress.
Aldy Esteban, the administrator for the municipal government, said that no leaders of either gang had been arrested since the May invasion.
“There’s clear evidence who took them, but we’ve had no answer” from the authorities, said Bernardo Carreto, a farmer who watched his three sons be taken away when they arrived in Chilapa to sell a calf. “They’re ignoring us. No one’s been arrested. Nothing has happened.”
The relatives of the 14 missing men meet daily in a restaurant near the tree-shaded town square. A government human rights official said that 10 more men may have disappeared during the takeover, but that the relatives are too scared to come forward.
Many of them cling to the hope that their loved ones may still be alive, perhaps forced to work on poppy or marijuana farms.
“They took them alive and they must return them alive,” said Mr. Carreto, echoing a slogan used by the relatives of the students who disappeared last year.
In that case, the National Human Rights Commission issued a report in July saying that the investigation into the students’ disappearance was deeply flawed and that vital leads were not pursued.
José Díaz, 52, a spokesman for the families here in Chilapa, said that about 100 people in the area have disappeared since the middle of last year, including his two brothers and a cousin.
He said his relatives had no connection to the gangs and were kidnapped simply because they were from Chilapa and entered Ardillo territory.
Five headless bodies were later found, which he believes included those of his relatives, but he said that the government has not revealed results of DNA testing that could identify the corpses.
René Hernández, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general’s office, said in an email that investigators have withheld some information from residents “to continue moving forward with the identification and location of the criminal groups in order to take definitive action without putting the residents at risk.”
Recent government data shows that the national murder rate has been steadily declining since its peak in 2011, which the government cites as evidence that its approach is working.
Despite the decline, many areas of the country continue to be shaken by violence as smaller groups of traffickers battle to fill the vacuum left by the deterioration of the large cartels.
Experts believe that even the powerful Sinaloa cartel, which is run by Mr. Guzmán, will eventually go the way of other large trafficking organizations and break into pieces, even with its leader once again at large.
“For Mexican organized crime, El Chapo is not the future,” said Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence official. “El Chapo is a remnant, a powerful remnant, but a remnant of the past all the same.”
Referring to the violence-convulsed state where Chilapa is, he added,