The Italians are still the ones that first come to mind when the topic is organized crime. With estimated revenues of $50 billion in 2005, the Mafia would be one of Italy’s biggest companies if they incorporated
Strong local and family connections. Cosa Nostra has been famous for enforcing omertà, its code of silence, on local populations, government officials, and even the Church. They and the other Mafia families take advantage of poor communities and almost feudal societies to maintain power and influence.
Despite their notoriety in modern Japan, the precise origin of the Yakuza is still somewhat the subject of debate
With close ties to many politicians and right-wing pressure groups, Japan’s crime syndicates can operate without much fear of the law.
The largest yakuza group is the Yamaguchi-gumi, whose 39,000 members account for nearly half of all Japanese gangsters. Headquartered in Kobe, the group has been growing fast through corporate-style acquisitions. Current godfather Kenichi Shinoda manages the criminal empire from jail. This incarceration is his second stint; in the 1970s, he did time for slicing up a rival with a sword.
The Distinguishing features, publicity and style. The yakuza are the most open of crime syndicates, with official headquarters, nameplates, and business cards. Flashy suits, distinctive tiger tattoos, and missing fingers (cut off as penance for failure) make for a romantic public image. Humanitarian gestures and an avoidance of “civilian” casualties, meanwhile, leave the public willing to look away from the groups’ violence.
Many Yakuza have full-body tattoos. These tattoos, known as irezumi in Japan, are still often “hand-poked,” that is, the ink is inserted beneath the skin using non-electrical, hand-made and hand held tools with needles of sharpened bamboo or steel. The procedure is expensive and painful and can take years to complete
As much as one tenth of Russia’s territory, and one quarter of its economy, may be under the sway of roughly 300,000 members in some 450 different Russian mob groups.
Distinguishing features, ruthlessness, the Russians are willing to go after journalists, the police, and senior officials to an extent that would make other syndicates squeamish.The Russian mob will back down from no one.
Despite its vaunted reputation, the American version of Cosa Nostra is a pale reflection of its former self. Once a nationwide presence, now its reach is limited to New York City and Chicago.
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security made their names in high-profile trials of top “godfathers” in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, New York’s “Five Families”—Gambino, Genovese, Lucchese, Colombo, and Bonanno—are still presences in New York. But after decades of relentless prosecutions, none of them now has an easily identifiable don.
Mexican Drug Cartels
Increased interdiction efforts by U.S. authorities put the Colombian cartels out of the transport sector of the drug trade, and vicious gangs in Mexico have risen to take their place.
Distinctive features: Multimedia flair. The cartels have recently been locked in a low-intensity war, and the executions and torture through which it is being fought have been the subject of numerous music videos posted on YouTube by gang members. When a video hasn’t said enough, gang members have been known to brandish the decapitated heads of their enemies as warnings.