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France

Corsica, a local breed of violence

Text by Tony Todd

Latest update : 2012-10-28

French PM Jean-Marc Ayrault on Monday announced plans to tackle crime in Corsica, France's murder capital. But the prosecutor of the island capital of Ajaccio says that, despite recent gang violence, life on the island is safer than on the mainland.

Corsica is still reeling from the murder, in broad daylight, of leading lawyer Antoine Sollacaro as he stopped at a petrol station on Tuesday. His killing is the fifteenth this year that authorities believe is the result of a Mafia-style hit.

But despite having the highest murder rate in France, the Mediterranean island of Corsica has remarkably low levels of petty crime, says the prosecutor of the Corsican capital of Ajaccio, Xavier Bonhomme.

Bonhomme, who took his post at the beginning of September, spoke to FRANCE 24 of the challenges the police and judiciary are facing on the island.

FRANCE 24: Corsica is the murder capital of France. How dangerous is life on the island?

Bonhomme: Yes, there are many murders in Corsica. Too many. But it must be understood that nearly all of these are directly related to organised crime, and are almost always over the settling of accounts and disputes over territorial expansion.

It's very rare to have the husband-kills-wife type of murder in Corsica, as is sadly more common in other jurisdictions I've worked in, such as Marseille and Paris.

Likewise, there is a negligible amount of sexual crime here; burglaries are rare and assaults in the streets are virtually unheard-of.

So the kind of crime we see Corsica is completely different from anything you might experience in, say, a Paris suburb.

What is more likely to happen is that in a dispute, one party will petrol bomb the other's car or set off an explosion at their house, as a warning, then leave nationalist graffiti behind to throw the police off the scent.

Another common problem here is extortion. Perhaps you are selling your car and you advertise it in the newspaper. Then comes a phone call from someone saying they'll buy it, but at half the price. If you say no, you may find that your car has been torched.

F24: How do you deal with murders that are related to organised crime?

Bonhomme: With difficulty. Remember that Corsica has a very small population, barely over 300,000 people. Everyone knows everyone, and people are very unwilling to testify in court.

In France we have a system of giving evidence anonymously. It works well on the mainland, but not at all here in Corsica. People don't trust the police or the courts.

We've had 15 murders so far this year, and without witnesses they are unlikely to be solved.

There is a very strong code of silence that is partly tradition and partly fear. I can understand that, and you can't force people to testify if they don't want to.

F24: What is the key to undermining organised crime in Corsica?

Bonhomme: It's the money. If you look around the streets of Ajaccio, there are too many luxury cars for the relatively small official financial output of the island. It doesn't make sense.

These gangsters, so far relatively untouchable, are making large investments in property both in Corsica and on the mainland. Investigations so far have been too limited to the crimes themselves, and not on the source of the vast amounts of dirty cash they are handling.

This is how the French state can play a much bigger role in helping solve Corsica's problems -- not by putting more policemen on the streets, but by giving resources so that the money side of the criminal activity can be properly investigated.

So far we don't have enough of those kinds of resources.

F24: Do you think the killers -- whoever they were and whatever the motive -- overstepped the mark in killing Sollacaro, a respected lawyer?

Bonhomme: It was an attack on justice and democracy. This crime will attract pressure on them from all sides -- from the police, the government, the legal profession, from the revulsion of ordinary Corsicans.

Maybe they made a mistake, but I don't think that means that it wasn't thought through.

It was a very deliberate crime, even if we still don't know what the motive was. There was absolutely nothing amateur in the way it was carried out.
 

Date created : 2012-10-19

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