Unione Corse

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Unione Corse
Founded 1920s
Founding location Marseille, France
Years active 1920s–present
Territory France (mainly Corsica and Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur)
Ethnicity Corsican and Italian French
Criminal activities Racketeering, drug trafficking, gambling, extortion, robbery, loan sharking, weapons trafficking, pimping, fraud, murder, bribery and fencing
Allies Italian-American, Sicilian and Campanian mafias
Rivals Frank Lucas Gang

The so-called Unione Corse is a secret society and criminal organisation operating primarily out of Corsica and Marseilles in France.[citation needed] Along with the Italian American and Sicilian mafias, the Unione Corse were the primary organisers of the French Connection, the monopoly that controlled trade in heroin between France and the United States of America and was active from the 1950s to the 1970s.

The symbol of the Unione Corse is the same as the symbol for Corsica generally: the Maure, or Moor's Head, a depiction of a black human head with a rag tied around the forehead, on a white field. In the case of a member of this society, this symbol is often worn as a pendant or a watch fob.

Characteristics and activities[edit]

The Unione Corse is alleged to be far more secretive and tightly knit than the Mafia, and law enforcement have found it hard to extract information from members, who follow a code of silence similar to the Sicilian Omertà. In addition, family ties creates bonds between the members. These bonds are not only stronger but allow protection against outsiders trying to either infiltrate or gather information about any of the members.

Typical of the Unione Corse's secrecy would be the case of a man known only as Antoine Rinieri.[1] On 12 June 1962, Rinieri, who identified as an art broker, arrived in the City of New York by air from Paris, France, carrying $247,000 in hard currency, ostensibly to purchase an object of art from an American identified as "Mr Anderson". He arrived at a club to complete the purchase, but the seller was a no-show; Rinieri decided to visit a friend, Gennett, in Asheville, North Carolina, before he left for Europe. For the duration of his visit, the money was stored in a jointly-held safety deposit box at Wachovia Bank in Asheville, per the recommendation of said Gennett. On 18 June, Rinieri left Gennett, flew to Chicago, and there boarded an aircraft which was to fly to Zürich via Montréal. The flight was rerouted to New York, where Rinieri was arrested and questioned.[2]

At its conclusion, he was served with a notice to appear before a Federal grand jury, which he did. At the proceedings, he refused to identify the American from whom he intended to purchase art, and furthermore refused to identify a Swiss acquaintance who had had temporary possession of the money prior to Rinieri's entry into the U.S.A., on grounds of a "code of [business] ethics" and a desire not to violate "confidential relationships". Rinieri specifically declined to rely upon the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.[3]

It was alleged by the prosecution that "unnamed agents of the Bureau of Narcotics 'believe' these funds represent the proceeds from the sale of narcotics in the United States by"[2] Rinieri. He was sentenced to incarceration for a term of six months for contempt of court, after which he was flown back to France. During this time, no link was, or could be, established between his money and undocumented trade in narcotics; the money was paid back with interest.

Like the Mafia, the Unione Corse is also split into separate crime families. As of the early 1970s, there were around 15 clans operating in France, the most notorious being the Francisci, Orsini, Venturi, and Guerini.

Criminal activities[edit]

  • Money laundering
  • Racketeering
  • Drug trafficking
  • Prostitution
  • Extortion
  • Control of football clubs
  • Malpractice at the levels of the European subsidies
  • Robbery
  • White-collar crime
  • Tax avoidance and tax evasion
  • Contract killing
  • Casinos, hotel nightclubs
  • Political corruption

Relationship with the French government[edit]

The Unione Corse has enjoyed some degree of influence within French government and law enforcement. During World War II, the organisation pacified and rendered harmless several prominent German sympathisers in Marseille on behalf of the French Resistance; this continued into the postwar years. In 1948, the Unione Corse was again enlisted, this time to act as strikebreakers in Marseilles; the society provided assistance in the form of longshoremen to unload ships and to persuade unions to return to work. Some Unione Corse members hold elected office; there are others in the Gendarmerie Nationale, Douanes France and SDECE.

It is believed[who?] that this close, mutually beneficial relationship has prompted the Government of France to somewhat de-emphasise law enforcement in regards to this group.

Involvement in the heroin trade[edit]

For more details on this topic, see French Connection.

The Unione Corse was heavily involved in the heroin trade for a good part of the 20th century. It was heavily involved in the drugs trade in South-East Asia in the 1940s, and after the French retreat from Indochina in 1954, Corsican mobsters flew in drugs from Laos to South Vietnam by plane. The operations were collectively known as "Air Opium".

The most famous aspect of the Unione Corse's involvement in the heroin trade was what became known as "the French Connection". Between the 1930s and 1970s, they smuggled heroin refined in Marseilles to New York. Ultimately, international cooperation between law enforcement agencies dismantled the operation.

Notable members[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "The Milieu of the Corsican Godfathers". Time. 4 September 1972. Archived from the original on 21 July 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "Rinieri v. Scanlon". 20 April 1966. Retrieved 13 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "United States of America, Appellee, v. Antoine B. Rinieri, Defendant-Appellant., 308 F.2d 24 (2nd Cir. 1962)". Retrieved 13 October 2013.