Crime in Corsica

It would be unsafe to sugar-coat it: Corsica is a lawless island that is widely known to be plagued by violent crime committed by organised gangsters involved in illegal activities. Vacationing there comes with high risk.

Criminal Gangs, Separatists, and Mafia

Apart from being known as a natural beauty, Corsica is also home to several criminal mafia gangs and a violent separatist movement group known as the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC), a group of primarily uneducated young men who have waged a clandestine war against France since 1977. Their known activities include numerous forms of racketeering and extortion, drug trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, robbery and contract killing.

For decades the group has assassinated political officials, brutally murdered police officers, and targeted French government offices with rocket-propelled grenade launchers and bombs. Typical militant acts by the FLNC are bombings, aggravated assault, armed bank robbery, and extortion through ‘revolutionary taxes,’ and these actions are mostly aimed at public buildings, banks, touristic infrastructure, military buildings and symbols of French control.

In addition to the FLNC, since 1930s Corsican organised crime and its ‘godfathers’ have formed part of the French criminal elite. Today, many continue to be at the core of organised crime in Corsica. But a new breed of criminal gangs has emerged in the last 10 years, after a wave of assassinations eliminated senior figures in the established Corsican Mafia. The subsequent power vacuum has been filled by younger gangs who are in competition with each other and hell-bent on accumulating wealth through drugs trafficking, racketeering and property speculation.

Analyzing organised crime in Corsica is challenging as the lines between organised crime and clandestine independence groups are blurred. The latter are involved in criminal activities, often under the guise of furthering the cause of independence. At the same time, both types of groups have significant stakes in the legal economy, where they also use corruption. The violence and bombings are now part of the culture, a coming of age of sorts for disaffected male youth.

Executions, Bombings, and Attacks

There was a time when Corsican murders mostly involved relatively obscure members of the island’s intertwined nationalist and criminal gangs. That has been consistently changing over the past several decades, as lawyers, politicians, community leaders, police, tax auditors, and sometimes tourists and bystanders, get executed in the streets, in shops, and in other public places. There are hundreds of attacks every year.

Corsica, with 300,000 people, has 0.5 per cent of the population of France but 20% of all its “revenge killings”. The island is now estimated to be, proportionately, the most murderous and criminal place in the European Union – ahead of Sicily or Sardinia. Corsica has a higher murder rate than anywhere else in Western Europe. According to a local source it has a homicide rate 41 times higher than the overall rate found on mainland France. (source)

Corsica has a reputation among continental French, many of whom refuse to visit this island of approximately 250,000 inhabitants because they fear they will be targeted.

The local criminals routinely organize attacks using machine guns, grenades, and bombs to destroy vacation villas, residential buildings, hotels, night clubs, police stations, offices, shops and vehicles. This makes Corsica an extremely dangrous place to visit. But Corsican’s insist that it’s the independence movement’s willingness to blow-up seashore developments that’s protected the so-called Isle of Beauty’. This violence has had huge impact by severely damaging the islands construction industry, development and infrastructure endeavours.

Bombing Vacation Villas & Hatred of ‘Outsiders’

In addition to these types of attacks, the FLNC have frequently targeted vacation homes of wealthy mainlanders. For decades, there have been dozens of vacation villa bombing attacks every year.

At the end of 2011, the group released a statement in which it claimed responsibility for 38 bomb attacks in the preceding 4 months. In 2012, there were several dozen more villas bombed. In 2013, the group blew up 24 more villas which were spread out across hundreds of miles in a coordinated attack.

One example, of many: “Armed men wearing balaclavas stormed the villa of retired financier Alain Lefebvre in broad daylight on July 2. He and six other terrified holiday-makers were ordered outside whilst the raiders, believed to be Corsican separatists, planted explosives inside the villa before detonating them.” – France 24 News

Villa bombings are said to be a warning to outsiders who choose to have residence on the island to leave. It worked — in 2014, a new law was written by legislators in Corsica, who have made it compulsory for people to be permanent residents for a minimum of five years before they can buy property in Corsica.

That didn’t stop the villa bombings though. They have formulated a new series of demands, including an amnesty for prisoners jailed for separatist violence, expanded use of the Corsican language and measures to keep wealthy mainlanders out of the local property market entirely. The villa bombings continue to this day, as the group attacks property of foreign investors, and vocally demands that selling land to non-Corsicans should be prohibited.

The feelings of resentment towards ‘continentals’ is deepened by the fact that many inhabitants of the island can no longer afford the rocketing property prices. Gilles Millet, of Corsica magazine, told France 24 that 80% of homes in Corsica, which has long been one of France’s poorest regions, are now bought by ‘continentals.’ What angers the nationalists and the environmentalists is that most of the houses are only occupied for a few weeks a year when their owners come to the island on holiday.

Murderers Go Free

There’s often speculation about land deals, murders designed to, in a sinister phrase, “send a message”, and tit-for-tat killings. But experts on organised crime admit the threads of violence in Corsica are impossibly tangled. What is certain is that almost none of the murderers are ever apprehended. Local law enforcement has found it increasingly difficult to prosecute offenders of the crimes committed due to a mafia-like code of silence from the Corsican residents known as ‘omerta’: absolute silence and non-cooperation with the authorities. Some locals have been reported to have said that it is through fear that they remain silent and not ‘omerta’.

Tourism Funds Violent Crime

Despite the overwhelming amount of organised crime within the region, tourism-industry professionals often insist that tourists are rarely harmed and Corsica has emerged as a jewel of French mass-tourism. In 2013, the Tour de France began in Corsica, and several music festivals have since sprung up, which add to the sense that it has now become a top tourist destination. The small island now sees more than four million tourists visit every summer, all of which unwittingly fund their violent criminal organizations.

Learn More

Check out our expert tips about how to avoid crime on the French Riviera.

Here is a detailed crime analysis, broken down by city:

  • Marseille: Crime rates are over 5 times higher than any other city in France, especially the murder rate.
  • Nice: Rife with pickpocketers and petty theives.
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