7 Biggest and Most Famous Crime Syndicates in the World

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Most of what people know about crime syndicates and mafia families around the world comes from movies, documentaries, and video games. Crime syndicates might actually seem like a thing of the past, since they’re not in the news as often anymore. However, many crime syndicates are still alive and well, but they’ve started paying more attention to keeping their organized crime more secret.

Here are the 7 biggest and most famous crime syndicates in the world.

Chinese triads

The Chinese triads operate in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and mainland China. Needless to say the bulk of their operations revolve around drug trafficking and counterfeiting. However, a new lucrative money-making opportunity presented itself recently — healthcare fraud.

Chinese triads | 7 biggest and most famous crime syndicates in the world | Brain Berries

Russian Mafia

It’s difficult to say how deeply rooted organized crime is in the politics of the country, but it’s undeniable that many oligarchs and politicians got their start by participating in less-than-legal affairs. A lot of organized crime in Russia revolves around drug trafficking, weapon sales, and schemes where certain businesses are “protected” by something more than the law and the criminal/justice system of the country.

Russian Mafia | 7 biggest and most famous crime syndicates in the world | Brain Berries

Cali cartels

This one is all about drugs, and it’s crucial to the whole business of drug trafficking from Colombia. The real “Cali Cartel” was founded by the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers (Miguel and Gilberto), and has been operating for 15 years between 1980 and 1995. It is estimated that by the mid 90’s their empire was a multibillion-dollar enterprise! Needless to say the cartel still exists today, but it’s not what it used to be.

Cali cartels | 7 biggest and most famous crime syndicates in the world | Brain Berries

Mexican cartels

Unlike the Cali Cartel, when it comes to Mexican cartels, there isn’t one big organization that rules supreme over anyone else. If anything, the Mexican cartels are a mess, and there is a constant, ongoing drug war between all the factions of the cartel and the Mexican government which is trying to shut them down. There are more than seven actively operating cartels in Mexico right now.

Mexican cartels | 7 biggest and most famous crime syndicates in the world | Brain Berries

Yakuza

Ah, the infamous Japanese mafia — Yakuza! There are four large syndicates: Yamaguchi-gumi, Sumiyoshi-kai, Inagawa-kai, and Aizukotetsu-kai. Unlike other syndicates on this list, the Yakuza are actually a semi-legitimate organization. They participate in legitimate affairs such as disaster relief (after the Kobe earthquake), banking, and legitimate businesses like stock-brokering and property management. However, all of this is built on the fear people have of dealing with Yakuza!

Yakuza | 7 biggest and most famous crime syndicates in the world | Brain Berries

Sicilian mafia

I have a friend from Sicily and she has confirmed that the Sicilian mafia is still as strong as ever. They don’t deal in the same kinds of organized crime as they used to, but they’re still profiting from the “protection racket”, where they promise to “protect” a business from disaster, when what they really mean is that if the business doesn’t pay them — the Sicilian mafia is what they’ll need protection from. The Italian government is infamously inefficient, and the Sicilian mafia serves as the de-facto police in some areas of Sicily.

Sicilian mafia | 7 biggest and most famous crime syndicates in the world | Brain Berries

Italian-American Mafia

You’ve seen The Sopranos, so you know what the Italian-American mafia is like. There are families, there are dons, and there are numerous ways in which these families partake in activities that are associated with organized crime. Like the Yakuza, many of the things they do are perfectly legitimate, but the big difference is that to get to the “legitimate” money-making businesses, these families had to start from very illegitimate activities first.

Italian-American Mafia | 7 biggest and most famous crime syndicates in the world | Brain Berries

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