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Top 10 Most Powerful Criminal Organizations in the World

After World War II and the economic crisis that followed, many criminals got much power across the world and started running a parallel economy. The manpower and national budget portions that are used to combat crime have increased yearly since the end of the crisis. However, the sad fact is that some of these organizations have continued to grow. When crime pays more than legal business, anarchy will rule the world. Some of these criminal organizations are so powerful controlling global economics and politics, they are literally the greatest threat to civilization in the world.

Sinaloa Cartel

The king of the biggest kingdom automatically becomes the greatest king, Mexico has the biggest drug cartels in the world and the Sinaloa cartel rules them all. While making nearly $10 bn a year and supported by a range of employees both inside and outside the government, there was no way any drug cartel could beat the Sinaloa. This cartel has appeared in the list of the richest drug syndicates for their constant production and supply of cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and meth to the US and at least 50 other countries across the world. The Sinaloa cartel is simply the most dangerous combination of drug trafficking and business management that the criminal world has ever had.[1]

The Sinaloa power, however, goes way beyond the money, the cartel has an effective network of employees in a hierarchy attached to all its markets worldwide. The most notable figure of the Sinaloa was Joaquin Guzman aka El Chapo, considered the most powerful drug dealer in the world after Pablo Escobar. However, El Chapo was imprisoned twice and both times while he was behind bars, the Sinaloa survived and in fact expanded. Vincente Zambada the man believed to be second in command was a former member of the Tijuana cartel and he understands the supply routes into the US. Just Like Escobar’s Plata o Plomo rule, the Sinaloa used bribery and coercion to secure power in the government and bullets to clear the competition all the way to the top.[2]

Russian Mafia (Bratva)

Russia is the biggest country Geographically but it’s largest crime syndicate is larger than the country. The mafia is believed to have roots inside the old Soviet Union and ties to the government even after the adoption of a democratic government. The groups have a membership of over 300, 000 people, working in over 50 countries in the world. Their stronghold in Russia was secured when they gained control of a fair share of the Russian Economy after the death of Joseph Stalin. With lots of firepower and enough men to wield it, The Russian Mafia encroached the US turning into what the FBI called the greatest threat to national security.[3]

With several fronts used to carry out their criminal activities worldwide, this empire seems unbreakable with Russia itself admitting to having 5000 of these organizations. The mafia has continued to disrupt the peace of many countries including the US, France, and Spain where they have controlled organized since the 90s. Their leader, Semion Mogilevich, once put on the list of the most wanted men by the FBI, is a powerful man who freely walks in Russia. He is wanted in almost every country in the world, mostly in the US for fraud through his company YBM Magnex that defrauded investors over$150m.[4]

Mara Salvatrucha: MS-13

They started as underdogs being bullied by the Mexican Mafia in the 70s but as more immigrants came to LA from El Salvador during the civil war, they grew and became a cult-like mob. This is the main street gang that got so violent that is has influenced the US immigration policy since the 70s. It started in Los Angles and spread to the rest of the US, Canada and central America acquiring over 60,000 members making it America’s biggest security threat. Donald Trump called them animals and mentioned them as the main reason for his hostile immigration policy towards central American immigrants. The Obama administration declared them the first Transnational criminal organization after their association with drug cartels was exposed in an FBI threat assessment.[5]

Their main activities in the US are ground level drug distribution, kidnapping, racketeering, and contract killings. They use kill steal, rape, and control as their motto and they beat up new members for 13 seconds as initiation. With a large population of youth membership and a lifetime loyalty oath, their population never declines. They easily interact with society including schools and juvenile detentions gaining more street control than any other syndicate. Most Mexican drug cartels now hire them as hit men using their power which extends to prisons to perform killings for the cartels.[6]

D Company

Ibrahim Dawood, the father of the Mumbai underworld created D Company to conduct his criminal activities worldwide. Dawood used this organization first to wipe out all competition in the criminal underworld in Mumbai. Being a Muslim, he was not liked by most of the Indian rivals in the Underworld and his alliance with the most powerful criminals was key to gaining control. He joined hands with Al Qaeda to bomb Mumbai in 1993 making him India’s greatest enemy.[7]

D Company, however, moved on to gain a large membership with headquarters in London, Dubai, Singapore, and some African Countries. This organization also smuggle precious stones and people. It supplied nearly 20% of European drugs at one point before the joint forces between India and the US forced them to recede. They continue to earn over $2 bn annually from their illegal trade despite their leader being on the run for over 3 decades.[8]

The Sicilian Mafia: Cosa Nostra

Ever heard of a mafia ordering all shops in the city to install slot machines for it to launder money through? That is the current nature of Italy’s oldest Mafia. Southern Italy was the home of almost every crime in the book including organized prostitution rings, illegal arms trades, and drug trafficking. After solidifying a base at home, Cosa Nostra extended to the rest of Europe and America becoming the mother of all mafias. If you walk in the streets of Sicily today, you may not notice the power of a mafia that once ruled the city and scared the Italian government. The combination of the Italian military and the US law enforcement have hit down on the local front but not the whole mafia, American Italian Mafia and European Cosa Nostra are still very powerful.[9][10]

This Was the first crime syndicate to single-handedly provoke a military deployment of a European government within its own borders. Cosa Nostra went way over its head when it bombed government prosecutors consecutively resulting in more than 10 deaths. Their target of extending their power into the Italian and American governments was just the new face of this mafia. At home, Cosa Nostra is not so strong anymore, apart from extorting refugees and local businesses. The Cosa Nostra, however, records one of the highest memberships with power abroad maintained by over 250,000 members.

Yamaguchi Gumi-Yakuza

This is the second arm of the Japanese government. Their former image of tattooed men with chopped fingers is slowly vanishing and their methods got more civilized but Yamaguchi Gumi is still the same old yakuza. They control the bigger part of the Japanese entertainment industry controlling stars and productions. They also have an organized network of professional escorts, IT experts, Money changers and casinos used to control every sector of the economy including the Stock exchange, the US State Department named them a dangerous organized crime group after the revelation on how they extort company executives and events to influence stock prices.[11]

Ever imagined a large skyscraper in the heart of the city headquartering a criminal empire? The Yakuza is not illegal according to Japan, no, it is just a group of criminals who do good stuff, quite a hard relationship to define so far. A united front in the Yakuza would make it the largest empire in the world. However, the many Yakuza groups tend to operate independently although all of them exploit innocent people and make dirty money. The Yamaguchi Gumi at 30,000 strong in Japan became even more interesting when they encouraged their members to get real jobs.[12]

Hells Angels

According to the FBI, men with tattoos and branded jackets on bikes are not criminals, however, if crime spikes every time these people encroach a city, questions arise. Hells Angels operate like the Yakuza with their main difference being they are bikers. They have a history dating back to the 40s in LA. Publicly, they appear as a group of civilized bikers with no ties to crime. Police investigations on most of their operations hardly bring out all tying evidence, crime is mostly linked to just a small group of this syndicate. However, Hells Angels are the largest biker crime syndicate in the world coordinating arms and drug supply in Australia, Europe, and North America. They have legal nightclubs, casinos and other commercial enterprises that are used to launder proceeds making them a very difficult syndicate to break. Their European counterparts are the most violent because of high competition from other biker gangs, especially in Spain and the Netherlands.[13][14]


When a crime Syndicate North of Italy was reported to have made $60bn in 2013, the Italian government was made aware of the real problem in the North. While Sicily and the rest of Southern Italy were invaded by the military to combat the more aggressive Cosa Nostra, another bigger problem was brewing in the North. Calabria is the prime target for immigrants who use Italy as the main route to get to Australia, Germany, and the US. Ndrangheta has exploited these poor people since the 60s operating under the radar to gain the support of many powerful people. No one knew that Ndrangheta was a big problem, Even the mayor of Milan said he didn’t know it in 2010, a year before they were named Italy’s largest mafia.

This is a highly organized syndicate involved in almost every business in the underworld. While kidnapping and extortion were its stepping stones, it has since expanded to doing anything that brings in money. Trafficking both drugs and people is their main source of income because of their strategic location. to Launder their earnings, they started operating construction companies and local gambling businesses around Calabria. Their leadership is highly secretive but the head of all Ndranghetas from Milan to Australia stays in Calabria.[15]

The Triads

The Triads are the second largest Asian organized crime syndicate after the Yakuza. They are also made up of many small organizations with a highly decentralized hierarchy. The most Notable are the Sun Yee with over 50, 000 members but 14K is their most active global actor. The total membership is way over 100,000 but the numbers are hard to pin considering every group retains autonomy and operational independence from the triad leader. Their structure doesn’t make them any less dangerous, they move large quantities of drugs especially cocaine and heroin for China which accounts for 12% of the global heroin consumption.[16]

The global reach of the triads was extensively aided by the presence of indigenous Chinese populations in Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Koreas. The US state department accused them of human trafficking involving smuggling almost 100,000 illegal immigrants into the US and forcing them to work at their benefit. Inside China, they are believed to hold strong standings in their local cities of Operation. Hong Kong which houses two of the strongest triads has seen more violence including wars when the triads have a conflict.[17]


This is the most powerful extortionist mafia in the world. They are known to be very violent, they extort businesses, especially foreigner owned shops North of Port city, and traffic drugs, people and weapons worldwide. The strategic location of their operations opened the gates to their international expansion gaining strong drug markets in Spain. They do not care about politics like the Cosa Nostra but they still bring in more money because of the efficient decentralized organization. They are literally the mafia that grabs every opportunity, their latest rise is highly linked to the problems of the Sicilian Mafia.[18]

Their style of operation is rather unique, the men handle the violence while women handle communication, accounting, and connections. While maintaining their headquarters in the poor suburbs, they still exploit rich neighborhoods in almost every country Europe including the UK and Germany. They spread so much fear to any snitches, the author that wrote about them, Saviano, in the mafia book Gomorrah hardly sees the light again after publishing his work.[19]

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