They say crime doesn’t pay, but of course, it does. Otherwise, people wouldn’t do it.
Crime can pay, and it can spend a lot. More money even than a person could spend in a lifetime.
It just so happens that crime also often leads to fines, prison, and or death, so it’s
a risky way to make a living.
The UN reports that the amount of “dirty money” that is made through criminal enterprises is between $800 billion and $2 trillion annually.
Today we are going to look at the crime world’s biggest earners from the near past to the present day.
The numbers given are of course estimates because criminals are not usually in the habit of filing tax returns, but we feel pretty confident in the numbers nonetheless.
We’ll start with the poorest of these filthy rich criminals and finish with the king of the underworld.
Table of Contents
#12. Tse Chi Lop
This Chinese-Canadian man is still in business as we speak.
He is sometimes called Asia’s El Chapo and is said to be the head of a multi-national crime syndicate that goes by the name of “Sam Gor”, or “The Company.”
This company controls about 40% of the methamphetamine market in the Asia-Pacific region, but it involves many, many drug kingpins from those who own super-labs in Myanmar, to gangsters who ensure the product travels to its destinations.
They traffic other illegal substances, too.
Many gangs are involved, including Hong Kong Triad gangs and Australian outlaws such as the Comanchero Motorcycle Club.
The Japanese Yakuza also have some fingers in this big fat illegal pie.
How do we know Tse Chi Lop sits in the big seat?
Well, that’s what the cops think.
He is said to run this network very professionally.
Of course, they deal in violence; the people in the network prefer to run things without trying to draw too much attention to themselves because money is good.
So, how much does the boss have?
That’s anyone’s guess, but word on the street is Sam Gor is raking in about $17 billion a year.
We expect Mr Tse Chi Lop to be a billionaire by now.
He’s got private jets and doesn’t go anywhere without his team of bodyguards, all of them trained in martial arts.
He sounds like one of those villains from a James Bond movie.
And get this, in just one night in a Macau casino he lost $66 million.
Crime is paying for him, but the cops say it’s only a matter of time until he is caught.
#11. Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán
From Asia’s El Chapo to the real El Chapo, This former head of the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel was at one point the 10th richest man in Mexico and worth one billion.
He started as a kid growing marijuana, and then in his later years; he became a drug trafficker who moved all kinds of substances.
No doubt a lot of drug users in the United States and Europe back in the day had some of his product.
He was so big he was compared to some of the world’s biggest drug kingpins, and that’s why an $8.8 million reward was offered for information that would lead to his arrest after he escaped from prison the first time.
Yep, the first time, because as many of you will know, El Chapo got out a second time with the use of tunnels.
He’s now locked up in the US.
Did the drugs stop flooding into the US and Europe after that?
Nope, not at all.
The drug trade is still flourishing, and bodies are still piling up.
You can almost hear the criminals in Mexico, shouting, “The King is dead, long live the king.“
Someone somewhere has taken over El Chapo’s business and is likely deserving to be on this list.
Unfortunately, when you take out a kingpin, the princes tend to fight for his place.
#10. Susumu Ishii
You are now probably thinking “Who?”
Mr Ishii might be unknown to you, and you haven’t yet seen the movie about him, but it’s thought his net worth was about $1.5 billion.
Much of that money was made in crime since this man was the Godfather of the Japanese Inagawa-kai yakuza gang.
We say “much” of that money because the yakuza gangs are known for making big bucks in legal businesses in the underworld.
He once said this about criminality, “We cannot succeed in the yakuza world unless we are active and aggressive until our early forties.
After that, we have to adapt our lives to ordinary society.
We cannot always be so forceful.”
One of his legitimate businesses was a golf course he built, and a very luxurious one at that.
Membership was 100-200 thousand dollars, and he had many members.
He made many millions from his investments and at one point was called the world’s most prosperous gangster.
People use to say everything that he touched turned to gold.
He retired as Godfather and when he died in 1991 over 6,000 people showed up to his funeral.
And here’s a fact for you, Mr. Prescott Bush was on this man’s payroll at one point.
That’s the older brother of former President George Bush.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission said it was all legal business, but helping out formidable Japanese gangsters wasn’t a good look for Prescott.
A Japanese Yakuza expert told the LA Times, “Being connected to the President’s family increases the gang’s prestige.”
#9. Griselda Blanco
From the Godfather to a woman known as The Godmother, well, when she was alive.
She died in 2012.
Back in the 80s and 90s, she helped flood the streets of the USA with the drug called cocaine.
Sometimes called The Black Widow, she went from petty crime in Colombia’s city of Medellin to becoming the Godmother.
She played a part in many vices that went down in the city of Miami, and she had a powerful way of doing business and living life.
Hence she got the name the Black Widow.
When she was in court, it was revealed that she had killed three of her husbands, as well as scores of innocent people, she didn’t like.
After a confrontation in a nightclub with someone she didn’t like, this is what The Guardian newspaper wrote, “After a blazing gun battle he and six bodyguards lay dead.
Blanco, who suffered only a minor gunshot wound to the stomach, recovered and soon afterward moved to Miami, where her body count – and reputation for ruthlessness – continued to climb.”
For her work, she ended up doing a lot of prison time in the USA, and then in 2012, she was shot down after buying some meat at a butcher’s in Medellin.
It’s thought her net worth had been as high as $2 billion.
#8. Carlos Lehder
The US Department of Justice said this guy was worth about $2.7 billion, which isn’t bad considering the fact he started in business as a man who dealt in stolen cars in the USA.
You might have seen his story depicted in the Johnny Depp movie called “Blow.”
That was about a cocaine smuggler named George Jung.
He hooked up with Lehder, and that’s how he met the Medellin cartel and got into cocaine smuggling.
The two trafficked hundreds of kilos of Pablo Escobar’s white powder into the USA and got incredibly rich doing it.
Lehder is now 70 years old and lives in a US prison, quite different from the time he pretty much turned an island in the Bahamas into his very own luxury fortress.
#7. Leona Helmsley
It’ about time we had a white-collar criminal on this list and this woman was known as the “Queen of Mean.”
She was a businesswoman, but it seems she didn’t much like paying her taxes.
She once said, “We don’t pay taxes; only the little people pay taxes.”
She also didn’t pay contractors at times when she spent millions renovating one of her many properties.
She eventually got 16 years for tax evasion, but only ended up serving nineteen months.
After her husband died, he left his empire to her, and that included properties of high value such as the Empire State Building.
So, if she had sold everything, she would have been worth more billions.
After she died in 2007 a lonely woman, left $12 million to a dog named Trouble.
We are not sure what the dog did with the cash.
Her estate was said to be worth $4 billion.
#6. Khun Sa
If you travel in northern Thailand to a small town called “Thoed Thai” on the Myanmar border, you’ll find a museum dedicated to a man named Khun Sa.
That translates as Prince Prosperous and you might say this prince ran things on the frontiers of the Wild East.
Outside that museum, there’s a grand statue of him on a horse, and if you chat with locals, you’ll hear a lot of beautiful things said about him.
That’s because of his drug empire worth around $5 billion funded schools, hospitals, and an army fighting for the liberation of the Shan State in Myanmar.
Dubbed the “Opium King”, he worked out of what’s called the Golden Triangle, an area that intersects Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos.
This opium was turned into heroin, and if you did that stuff in the 1970s to the 1990s, there is a good chance it came from him.
He controlled about half of the world’s heroin trade.
The US detested him, and he was an enemy number one, but how do you arrest a man who commands a large army and can hide out in the hills on the Thai-Burmese border?
Even the locals would protect him, so he wasn’t an easy man to arrest, not even with a $2 million bounties on his head.
That’s because he helped the people.
He told the United Nations that he would eradicate his opium crops, but he wanted the UN to invest money in foreign aid.
He also asked for money so the people could substitute their crops for other crops, as well as some cash for healthcare and education.
Even today, this area is very poverty-stricken.
The US said no, we don’t do deals with drug dealers.
Khun Sa later retired, and while many attempts were made to arrest him, he was never caught.
He died an older man.
It’s thought his net worth was about $5 billion at one point.
They still honor him up in Those Thai, and he is one of the reasons many people have running water and electricity.
They didn’t see the many junkies in the streets of London and New York, so he is all good to them.
#5. Viktor Bout
This Russian man has been called “The Merchant of Death“, and that’s because he’s one of the most notorious arms smugglers the world has ever known.
That enterprise might have earned him in the region of $6 billion.
He made headlines when he was arrested in Thailand in 2008.
He has since been extradited to the USA and is currently imprisoned there. He has quite the resume.
Bout is very intelligent, that’s for sure.
He speaks many languages fluently, including Russian, English, Portuguese, French, Arabic, and Persian.
He started in the Soviet Armed Forces and later built an air freight business.
This line of work turned into arms trafficking, and he worked with many countries and armed factions fighting inside countries.
Since he has armed so many people, the US Department of Justice sees him as a terrorist, although Bout doesn’t feel that way.
He believes he’s being held as a political prisoner.
He once said that gun shop owners in the USA do precisely the same job as he did.
#4. Dawood Ibrahim
If you somehow managed to give some information that led to the arrest of this guy, you would get rich because the reward is $25 million.
He might be worth around $7 billion.
What does Dawood do?
We use the present tense because he’s still in business and living the life of a free man.
He is the head of the D-Company, which is an organized crime outfit in Mumbai, India, but spans the world.
The FBI has him on the list of “The World’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives” and he’s accused of…well, you name it.
Murder, Extortion, Drug Trafficking, Assassinations and Terrorism. Where he is, is up for speculation.
He might be in Pakistan; he might not. He’s an invisible man, but behind the scenes, he has his fingers in many crime pies in South Asia.
#3. Semion Mogilevich
This man is in what’s sometimes called the Russian mafia.
But he’s the boss, the boss of bosses, the one and only, and he’s a free man in Moscow.
The FBI doesn’t much like that fact and has called him the most dangerous mobster in the entire world.
If we listed all the things he has been accused of this article would be a book, but suffice to say, he is alleged to have committed all the worst kinds of crimes but on an international scale.
What does he get for his enterprises?
It’s thought about $10 billion.
#2. Amado Carrillo Fuentes
He is the Mexican drug lord you might not have heard of, but you may have heard how he died.
That’s because he was undergoing surgery to change the way he looked when it happened.
The US and Mexico were after this man who was behind the drug trafficking industry that stretched around the world.
That’s why he needed to change his face. The surgeons, by the way, were tortured and killed for their part in his death.
Carrillo was about as big as you can get, and before there were the likes of El Chapo, there was him.
It’s thought he might have made $25 billion in total, for moving that devil’s dandruff from Colombia, through Mexico, and into the USA.
#1. Pablo Escobar
There’s only one king of cocaine, and he is named Pablo Escobar.
He’s been dead a long time, but still runs things on Netflix.
We expect many of you feel you know him very well because he’s the drug trafficker we can’t stop making movies and TV shows.
Escobar founded the notorious Medellín Cartel, and in the 70s and 80s, he moved tons of cocaine into the United States.
That earned him in the region of $30 billion, making him one of the wealthiest people in the world.
He is responsible for countless deaths, the ruin of families and entire neighborhoods, and the reason some people never seemed to be able to quit talking about themselves at parties while intermittently sneaking off to the restroom.
His empire wasn’t exactly a smooth business to run, and through competition and avoiding the law, the number of lives lost could equal that of a war.
While his line of work led to much blood-spilled, like Khun Sa, he won some people over because he put some of his wealth into poor communities.
He got involved in petty crime as a kid, but in his twenties, he was making millions.
He was about 26-years old when he started trafficking large amounts of cocaine into the USA.
When he was shipping the most considerable quantities, as much as 51,000 pounds (23,000 kg) could go in one shipment.
The cartel during its heyday was making about $70 million a day.
They even spent $1000 a week on rubber bands that were used to wrap around the bundles of cash.
Escobar was killed by police when he was 44.
Some criminals in Colombia are still raking in cash.
The US State Department said in 2017, Colombia remains a major player and that in that year use and availability of the stuff in the US was on the rise again after a fall.
Now it’s time to make your voice heard.
Let us know what you think about these mafias?
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