- Corsica - France - organised crime - shootings
The new face of Corsica's bloody criminal underworld
As Corsica prepares to bury high-profile lawyer Antoine Sollacaro, who was shot this week at a petrol station, the head of the Corsican legislative assembly tells FRANCE 24 that a wave of gang-related murders is "killing the island's future".
A respected Corsican lawyer murdered this week will be buried on Friday as the Mediterranean island struggles to come to terms with a wave of gang violence that has claimed 15 lives so far this year.
Antoine Sollacaro, Corsica's most experienced and respected barrister, was shot nine times in the head and chest with a high-calibre firearm, in broad daylight, by a gunman riding a motorbike at a petrol station in the island's capital Ajaccio on Tuesday morning.
Sollacaro was known for his long history of defending Corsican nationalists, including the high-profile case of Yvan Colonna, who is currently serving a life sentence for the 1998 murder of the island's prefect.
Police say they have neither a motive for Sollacaro’s killing nor any firm leads – at least officially – for what is the 15th murder this year bearing the hallmarks of a gangland hit.
A new breed of killers
Corsica's criminal underworld has traditionally been linked to nationalist and separatist movements, which have long been a thorn in the French government's side.
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.
Central to their ambitions is Corsica's unspoiled coastline, much of it protected from development under French law, where land prices are skyrocketing.
“Pressure is put on mayors to grant planning permission,” Corsican Assembly President Dominique Bucchini told FRANCE 24. “If they prevaricate, they find that their cars have been torched, or a bomb is set off near the mayor's office. And then finally it comes to a bullet in the head.”
Speaking from the assembly building in central Ajaccio, just a stone's throw from the scene of Sollacaro's murder, the veteran Communist politician said the scale and open brutality of the killings was driving the islanders to despair.
France's murder capital
Also fuelling the wave of violence are the island’s grim economic conditions, which Bucchini said were driving young people to crime “in pursuit of the myth that money is king”.
Corsica, he said, has France's biggest gap between rich and poor, its oldest population, its highest suicide rate and the worst education scores.
The island has also earned the dubious honour of being France's murder capital, with higher rates of violent crime than even Sicily, Italy's notorious Mafia heartland.
“In Corsica, there is an atmosphere of fear,” said Bucchini. “People are completely fed up.”
Bucchini said that while Corsicans feel no nostalgia for the nationalist faces of the old underworld versus the brand of younger criminals that now dominates, there is a new element of anarchy in today’s Corsica.
“A criminal is a criminal, full stop,” he said. “But two decades ago, violence in Corsica was all about politics. Now it is pure banditry. These days, it seems that if you want to be a Mr. Big, you shoot, shoot, shoot.”
Bucchini notes that there is a terrible irony to the violence that now threatens Corsica’s hopes for the future. “They are targeting the very establishment that is trying to resolve Corsica's problems. They are killing politicians, lawyers – even women.”
'Drowning in violence'
The Corsican Assembly is preparing new legislation to help protect the coastline and to keep real estate prices down “so that ordinary Corsicans can continue to live here”, Bucchini said, which would also save the picturesque island from the blight of overdevelopment.
But protecting the island’s 300,000 inhabitants from the greed of the gangs may require even more government action, Bucchini said, to develop “a durable economy that will benefit everyone in Corsica, year in, year out”.
“But all efforts to attract investors and encourage real economic development will come to nothing if we are drowning in violence,” he said. “If this gangsterism continues, it will kill our future.”