Saturday, February 11, 2012

Organised crime in Provence

Wouldn't you think that if you were a gangster involved in organized crime on the Cote d'Azur and made your living riding around on Yamahas shooting other gangsters, it would occur to you that one day someone would ride up on a motorbike and shoot you?

Apparently it didn't occur to mobsters Stéphane Tixier and Amadéo Titeux because they were completely taken by surprise when a gunman roared into the MIN fruit and veg wholesale market in Nice yesterday morning and shot the pair of them. (Admittedly it was only 7.20am so they may not have been entirely with it.) Killed in a hail of bullets amongst the oranges and aubergines, the two men may just have had time to say to each other: "How come we didn't this coming?"

The MIN (marché d’intérêt national) is a busy market selling fruit, vegetables and other agricutural products. Tixier and Titeux were at two stands belonging to Cash Fruits - presumably more interested in the cash than the fruit - when two motorbikes arrived and the driver of one opened fire. The assassin escaped with his accomplice and the two killers then burnt one of the bikes, a Yamaha, and escaped together on the other. Police quickly found the burnt out bike at Saint-Laurent-du-Var.

Tixier (49) and Titeux (41) were both heavily involved in organised crime (grand banditisme) on the Riviera and had served prison sentences for taking part in at least one murder.

They were jailed for 12 years each for their part in the killing of Philippe Di Cristo, 30, another big bandit, who was shot dead in front of a video-club at Cagnes-sur-Mer in January 2002. Tixier and Titeux were, no less, the drivers of the two motorbikes used in the murder. It seems the hit was organised by a third man, Jacques Sordi, a key figure in organised crime on the Riviera and known as ‘le Général’. Sordi was jailed for 15 years.

Not long after they were freed (for good behaviour?) Tixier and Titeux were hauled in by police on the Cote d’Azur and questioned about the murder of Thierry Derlan, 39, who was killed in 2010. Derlan was a rising goodfella on the Riviera and considered an expert at evading police and rival crime gangs. His expertise let him down on a lovely May day when he was hit by seven bullets outside his own home in Nice.

There is a strangely satisfying symmetry about murderous gangsters knocking each other off, especially when they're killed in exactly the way they've killed others. The fact that such killings are seen as more or less hermetically sealed wihin their own criminal network was somewhat underlined by the police response to Tixier and Titeux's deaths. They put a tactful 'cordon of security' round the market but told traders to carry on selling their fruit and veg. Notwithstanding two drive-by shootings, trading at the MIN, the local paper reported, was not interrupted.

Organized crime on the Cote d'Azur is making plenty of local headlines recently. A major trial in Marseille started this week which aims to hammer Corsican gangsters who have set up protection and extortion rackets across Provence and in Paris. Jacques Mariani, the main defendant, is a surviving member of a Corsican gang elegantly named Brise de Mer (Sea Breeze.) Mariani is accused of having established a widespread extortion racket in and around Aix-en-Provence. While he was quietly having his breakfast in jail yesterday morning before appearing in the dock, police in Marseille and Aix-en-Provence were breaking down doors and dragging men into police wagons. They arrested 30 sleepy suspects from a rival Corsican gang, Bergers de Venzolasca (Venzolasca shepherds).

Leaving aside the fact that the gang names sound, respectively, like a racehorse and some sort of sports team, you have to ask yourself if being involved in organised crime is really worth it. You get to extort money out of small businessmen who run bars and nightclubs, and maybe you get rich. But one downside is that you never know when the battering ram will hit the door and the cops will haul you off to court. Another is that you're in constant rivalry with people prepared to kill you. Sea Breeze and the Shepherds are just the current crime topdogs, ready to be pushed off their perch. Before them, the Barresi and Campanella crime families controlled extortion and other criminal activities on the Riviera. And right now there'll be some other gang ready to take over from Mariani and his mob.

The guys who end up in jail in Marseille may have the best luck of course. The alternative is likely to be that one morning you're standing chatting to a fellow gangster in the market and a guy rides up on a motorbike and shoots you in the head. It may be justice of a sort, but it's not poetic.

Here's your last chance to read my Kindle eBook, Present Tense. Sales have been so brisk that Amazon have only 5 left in stock...

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