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5 Richest Mafias In the World

Organized crime, also known as the mafia, has been around for centuries. Today, organized crime organizations can bring in millions or even billions of dollars each year, profiting from activities such as drug trade and drug trafficking, human trafficking, money laundering, extortion and arms trafficking. Organized crime groups can be found in countries around the world, with some of the richest mafia in the world bringing in multiple billions of dollars annually. 

In this article, we'll discuss the richest mafia in the world, including how much they make, how they make their money, and how these organizations came to be. This article will help readers gain an understanding of organized crime, as well as which organizations have the most power, money, and influence in their countries. Whether you have an academic interest in organized crime, or you’re interested in organized crime for personal reasons, here’s what you need to know. 

Mafia #5: Sinaloa Cartel

At a glance:

  • Background: Founded in 1980’s in Sinaloa, Mexico
  • Claim to fame: The Sinaloa cartel was founded in Sinaloa, a state in Mexico that has long been home to the illegal drug trade and the birthplace of the famous drug trafficker Joaquín Guzmán Loera, who was known as El Chapo (“Shorty”).
  • Wealth: $3 billion revenue
  • Income sources: Drug trafficking
  • Overview:

Although there are multiple drug cartel organizations in Mexico, Sinaloa is the largest. The Sinaloa cartel is a link in the chain between  American consumers purchasing drugs and the producers of those drugs in South America. It's estimated that approximately $6.5 billion in drugs are filtered through Mexican cartels every year, and the Sinaloa cartel controls an estimated 60% of that market share, bringing in approximately $3 billion every year. 

Sinaloa cartel is based in Culiacán, Sinaloa state, Mexico. The origins of the Guadalajara cartel can be traced to one of Mexico's largest crime organizations in the early 1980s, which broke into various groups later in the decade. The Sinaloa cartel was one of these groups, and as time went on, Sinaloa became more powerful. The Sinaloa cartel benefitted from the methods of smuggling introduced by Joaquín Guzmán Loera, who was known as El Chapo (“Shorty”). Guzmán introduced the idea of smuggling into the U.S. through tunnels. Guzmán gained full control of the cartel while in prison during the 1990s and then escaped from prison in 2001. 

The Sinaloa cartel engaged in turf battles to become one of the most powerful cartels in Mexico, and during those wars, gained control over territory from the Tijuana and Juárez cartels. Into the 2000s, the cartel operated in 50 countries, particularly in the United States. The cartel is responsible for most illegal drugs that enter the United States through the Mexico border. Although other cartels may have a diverse source of income, the Sinaloa cartel relies primarily on income from drug sales. 

Guzmán was captured in 2014 and escaped from prison in 2015 through a tunnel. The following year, he was captured again in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, and was extradited to the United States the following year. The Sinaloa cartel has become increasingly involved in the distribution of fentanyl, which has contributed to the opioid crisis in the United States. Today, Sinaloa is a regular target for Mexican law enforcement but continues to be a powerful organization that controls much of the drug trade in the United States. 

Mafia #4: ‘Ndrangheta

At a glance:

  • Background: Founded in the 18th century in Calabria, Italy
  • Claim to fame: In 2023, ‘Ndrangheta became the center of attention when a total of 207 members of the crime syndicate were convicted on charges of drug trafficking, arms trafficking and extortion. This was the largest-ever prosecution against the criminal organization.
  • Wealth: $4.5 billion revenue
  • Income sources: Drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, and rigging public contracts 
  • Overview:

As one of Italy's oldest criminal organizations, it was only natural that the ‘Ndrangheta should become one of the richest mafia in the world following the intense prosecution of the Sicilian mafia. ‘Ndrangheta was formed in the 18th century in the Calabria region of Italy. ‘Ndrangheta is Italy's second-largest mafia by revenue. 

Like the Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta is involved in money laundering, extortion, and rigging public contracts. However, ‘Ndrangheta's greatest source of income comes from controlling the drug trade in Europe. Since the 1980's, ‘Ndrangheta has controlled much of the cocaine entering Europe from South America, and recently it was estimated that they controlled as much as 80% of that drug trade. In addition, the organization has amassed a great deal of money from arms trafficking. 

Europol reports that ‘Ndrangheta uses their large profits to invest in struggling local businesses. The organization has also spread its networks across Europe, Latin America, the United States, Australia, and Canada. It's estimated that the crime organization controls approximately 3% of Italy's GDP. As a result of its large international status, there have been major law enforcement actions against ‘Ndrangheta in Brooklyn, Brazil, and Lebanon. The ‘Ndrangheta has helped to prop up crime families in other locations, including crime families in New York City, including ‘the Gambino family. 

Recently, more than 200 members of the ‘Ndrangheta were convicted during a massive trial that took place in Italy. The trial took place in a massive bunker that was specially built for the event. This trial came after years of similar crackdowns that targeted the Calabrian mafia. The results of the trial took nearly 2 hours to read aloud. The trials gained international attention, as ‘Ndrangheta has networked and spread to many countries outside Italy. 

Mafia #3: Camorra

At a glance:

  • Background: Founded in the 1900s as a prison gang in Naples, Italy
  • Claim to fame: At times, the Camorra has been attributed with reducing street crime in Naples and is said to have ties with the government, which allows it to continue. 
  • Wealth: Revenue: $4.9 billion revenue
  • Income sources: Firearms trafficking, sexual exploitation, drugs, counterfeiting, usury, extortion and gambling 
  • Overview: 

Camorra is the most successful of Italy's organized crime groups. Dating back to the 19th century in Naples, Camorra was initially formed as a prison gang. Camorra rose to power during the political struggles in Italy in the late 1800's by offering political organization for Italy's poor. The Camorra consists of nearly 100 autonomous clans, 10,000 or more immediate associates, and a much larger network of people connected to the Camorra as clients or dependents. The Camorra is known to have regular interactions with the general public, lending money, suppressing street crime, offering protection, and other activities. In fact, even in the early days of the Camorra, the organization was entrenched in the local city government and the army. 

The Camorra lost ground during the latter half of the 1800s following the unification of Italy and several manhunts for various members of the group. By the early 1900s, the Camorra was very weak and experienced the defeat of all of its candidates in the Neapolitan election in 1901. 

A famous murder case brought several alleged Camorristi to trial in 1911. Sentences were carried out, and many of the Camorra fled to the United States. In the US, these Camorra engaged in feuds with the American mafia until they were eventually absorbed into the group. 

Camorra survived in Italy, and In the past several decades, the Camorra has risen to power in Naples. The Camorra is now a firmly established organized crime group that brings in a revenue of $4.9 billion every year. 

Mafia #2: Yamaguchi Gumi

At a glance:

  • Background: Founded in 1916, in Kobe, Japan
  • Claim to fame: Despite bringing in much of its revenue from drug trafficking, the group has long held a disdain for drug dealing, and members are forbidden from dealing drugs. 
  • Wealth: $6.6 billion revenue
  • Income sources: Drug trafficking, gambling, extortion and “dispute resolution”. Other income sources include labor racketeering, extortion, gambling, loansharking, prostitution and smuggling. 
  • Overview:

The Rokudaime Yamaguchi-gumi is the world’s largest Yakuza organization. As of 2014, the Yamaguchi-gumi had a total of 23400 members, which was nearly half of Japan's Yakuza population. The Yamaguchi-Gumi was founded in 1916 by local Kobe fishermen, but the group went through several leaders before it eventually took the form it takes today. The organization fell apart after World War II, but under the leader Kazuo, the group was revived, expanded, and eventually became involved in all of the various income sources that the group takes part in today. 

Despite its involvement in drug trafficking, the group is outwardly against drug usage and drug dealing, and many previous leaders have refused to allow the organization to make money through drug dealing. Older members shied away from violent criminal activities. In fact, in the past, members of the Yamaguchi-gumi lived by a code of ethics. However, the 4th leader of the group, Tadamasa Goto, allowed violence and violent tactics to be implemented and even allowed for violence against civilians. 

The Yamaguchi-gumi traditionally operated in Kobe, the region where it was founded, but has expanded operations in Tokyo. However, at times, the spread of Yamaguchi-gumi to other areas of Japan has turned bloody, resulting in the deaths of people higher up within the organization. 

The Yamaguchi-gumi has been designated by the Japanese government as a "boryokudan", which means that it is a criminal organization. The members of the Yamaguchi-gumi are placed on watch lists, are unable to rent apartments, and are restricted in other ways from engaging in normal Japanese society. However, unlike some other types of organized crime around the world, the Yakuza is government-regulated and is described by some as semi-legal in Japan. In fact, organizations like the Yamaguchi-gumi have corporate logos and strict standards and follow policies that give back to their communities. 

Mafia #1: Solntsevskaya Bratva

At a glance:

  • Background: Founded in 1980s in the former Soviet Union, in Solntsevo District in Moscow
  • Claim to fame: Solntsevskaya Bratva doesn’t follow the thieves' code of conduct. This decentralized group pools its money, which is managed by a 12-person council that meets regularly in different parts of the world. 
  • Wealth: $8.5 billion revenue
  • Income sources: Primarily drug trade and human trafficking, but also car theft, extortion, stolen art, contract killings, money laundering, arms dealing, trading nuclear material, oil deals, and prostitution.
  • Overview: 

Solntsevskaya Bratva is a highly decentralized group divided into ten brigades that operate independently of one another. However, money between these ten groups is pooled, and that process is managed by a council consisting of 12 people who meet in various locations to make financial decisions. The Solntsevskaya Bratva claims to have approximately 9,000 members. The group relies on human trafficking and drug trade - specifically, heroin. In fact, Russia, a country with approximately 0.5% of the world's population, is responsible for using approximately 12% of the world's heroin. 

The Solntsevskaya Bratva was started by Sergei Mikhailov, a former waiter who turned to crime to make more money. He was caught in 1984 and spent six months in the Gulag, where he established a network of criminals and earned a reputation among thieves. Once out of prison, Mikhailov established his organized crime ring in the Solntsevo District in Moscow, a working-class neighborhood that was already home to a few existing gangs. The ensuing gang wars were fierce, but the Solntsevskaya Bratva somehow always came out on top. Eventually, other gangs allied with Solntsevskaya Bratva and other gangs were chased out of the area. 

By the 1990s, the Solntsevskaya Bratva had grown large enough that it could establish legitimate businesses to hide the illegal activities, and eventually, the gang spread out to other nations. The founder of the group, Mikhailov, has reported that he would prefer to be seen as a businessman rather than a gang member. Today, the gang continues to operate a number of legitimate businesses that act as a front for the gang activity. In addition to operating in Russia, Solntsevskaya Bratva also operates in the Caribbean, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, and China. Solntsevskaya Bratva also has ties to Afghanistan, where it gets its heroin. 

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Lily Wordsmith

Written by Lily Wordsmith

Lily Wordsmith is a freelance writer who has had a love affair with the written word for decades. You can find her writing blog posts and articles while sitting under a tree at the local park watching her kids play, or typing away on her tablet in line at the DMV. In addition to her freelance career, she is pursuing ebook writing with an ever-growing repertoire of witty ebooks to her name. Her diversity is boundless, and she has written about everything from astrobotany to zookeepers. Her real passions are her family, baking desserts and all things luxe.

Read more posts by Lily Wordsmith

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