The Unione Corse, also known as the Corsican mafia, is a highly secretive criminal organization operating primarily out of Corsica and Marseilles. Unlike the Sicilian Mafia, it has not attempted to gain a foothold in the United States, and thus does not have the notoriety of the other organization.
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. One typical example would be that of Antoine Rinieri, who was arrested in New York City in the early 1960's carrying around $247,000 in cash from a suspected drugs deal. Under police interrogation he refused to give his real name or what he was doing with the money and was sentenced to six months imprisonment for contempt of court. At the end of his sentence he was deported back to France, but since no link was established between his $247,000 and drugs trafficking, the government was forced to pay him back the sum, with interest.
Like the mafia, the Unione Corse is also split into separate clans and crime families. As of the early 70's, there were around 15 clans operating in France, the most notorious being the Francisci, Orsini, Venturi and the Guerini.
The Unione Corse have enjoyed some degree of influence within French government and law enforcement. During World War II, the organization carried out murders of prominent German sympathisers in Marseille on behalf of the French Resistance, and this continued into the postwar years. In 1948 the French government called upon the Union Corse again to break up union strikes in Marseille which had Communist support. The gangsters provided an army of strikebreaking longshoremen to unload the ships and gunned down or intimidated defiant union leaders.
The organization had also managed to infiltrate various government agencies with its own members, such as the police, customs service and SDECE. It is believed that the organization's influence was one of the key factors behind the government's reluctance to crack down on their criminal activity.
The Union Corse were heavily involved in the heroin trade for a good part of the century. It was heavily involved in the drugs trade in South-East Asia in the 1940's, 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 Union Corse involvement in the heroin trade was probably the French Connection. Between the 1930's and 70s, the mobsters smuggled heroin refined in Marseille over the Atlantic to New York. Ultimately, international cooperation between law enforcement agencies had managed to dismantle the operation.