Crime Rich List: Cartels cash in on their campaigns of violence

The Mexican army seized 26.2 million dollars from a house in northwestern Sinaloa state
The Mexican army seized 26.2 million dollars from a house in northwestern Sinaloa state

Ireland’s gangsters have moved up the financial ladder in recent years, but their earnings are dwarfed by those of the world’s biggest crime cartels.

In some cases, the global cartels operate in their home countries with impunity, due to a mixture of friends in high places, corruption or state inaction.

The Solntsevskaya Bratva is Russia’s largest organised crime group and is estimated to have a yearly revenue of over €8billion. 

The gang was formed in a run-down Moscow suburb in the 1980s by former Gulag inmate Sergei Mikhailov and became the most powerful mob in Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed.   

It has connections to all levels of Russian political and security structures. 

They have been linked to drug trafficking, arms trafficking, contract killing, extortion, human trafficking, prostitution, kidnapping, fraud, auto theft and were at one stage suspected of radiological/nuclear material smuggling. 

They are also, like all top Russian gangs, heavily involved in the multi-billion dollar cyber-crime world, which significantly contributes to their earnings. 

They are also involved in global crime networks throughout Europe, Latin America and Asia, with particularly strong links to Mexican cartels. 

The group has thousands of members in several countries, with 10 brigades that tend to operate independently of each other, but pool resources.

The Yamaguchi-gumi is the largest Yakuza gang operating in Japan and Fortune magazine estimated it had a revenue of around €6.5bn in 2014. 

Their main source of income comes from drug trafficking, but they are heavily involved in extortion, gambling, prostitution, internet porn and stock market manipulation. 

The gang started out as a loose labour union for dock workers before World War II, but is now one of the largest criminal organisations in the world and three years ago were estimated to have 23,000 active members. That number, however, is believed to have declined after a split in the organisation in 2015. 

They are currently led by kumicho (kingpin) Kenichi Shinoda, who was previously jailed over killing a rival in the 1970s and more recently spent time in prison for firearms possession. 

Unlike gangs in some countries, the Yakuza operate in the open,  with registered offices, business cards and even corporate logos. 

In an interview in 2011, Shinoda said his mob kept the peace. 

“If the Yamaguchi-gumi were to disband, public order would probably worsen,” he claimed.

A 2013 study by the Università Cattolica and the Joint Research Centre on Transnational Crime estimated that the major Mafia gangs in Italy generate around €30bn annually. 

However, the UN claimed that Italy’s three main Mafia groups, the Camorra, Cosa Nostra and ’Ndrangheta, have a joint annual turnover of €116 billion. 


The transnational crime report said the Camorra, a 6,700-strong Neapolitan crime syndicate made up of various clans, was taking in billions on everything from “sexual exploitation, firearms trafficking, drugs, counterfeiting, gambling and extortion”.

The Camorra mob has become intertwined in almost all aspects of life, from business and politics to murder and mayhem in Naples and surrounding areas. Italian police arrested politicians and businessmen over links to the gang in raids earlier this month   

It has also spread from Naples to other parts of Italy and internationally to the U.K. and U.S. 

The second-largest Mafia group in Italy is the ’Ndrangheta. Italian think-tank Demoskopika estimated the ‘Ndrangheta took in around €60bn in revenue in 2013.  

They have strong ties with South American cocaine cartels as well as the Gambino and Bonanno crime families in New York and are major players in the transatlantic drug network. 

They also use a network of Italian emigrants or their descendants based in countries including Germany, Australia, Belgium, Colombia, and France

The Sicilian Mafia, also known as the Cosa Nostra, has tentacles spreading far and wide through crime, business and politics. 

Their international operations took a hit in the 1990s following a state crackdown when they murdered top anti-Mafia judges. 

Roughly 70 per cent of businesses in Sicily pay protection money, which is estimated to cost the economy €10bn a year.

A decade ago they were estimated to have turned over €6.5bn a year from public contracts alone and well in excess of that figure from drugs. They derive further income from vote buying, smuggling and loan sharking. 

The Sinaloa Cartel is responsible for a quarter of all the drugs that arrive in the U.S. from Mexico. Extremely conservative estimates suggest the cartel takes in at least €3bn a year. 

Ismael Zambada Garcia is the current leader, taking over from Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, who was extradited to the U.S. from Mexico in January on money laundering, drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder charges. 

Forbes magazine rated Guzmán as the second most powerful man in Mexico after billionaire Carolos Slim with a net worth of around €3bn. 

Garcia’s son Ivan (below) has used social media to flaunt his wealth with pictures of supercars, private jets and diamond-encrusted weapons as he taunted authorities.