SHARE
COPY LINK

MAFIA

Corsican ‘mafia boss’ gunned down

An alleged key figure in one of Corsica's most powerful crime families, Maurice Costa of the "Brise de Mer" gang, was gunned down in broad daylight Tuesday at his local butcher shop, police said.

Two masked gunmen shot and killed Costa, 60, at 11:08 am (0908 GMT) through the window of the butcher shop in the village of Ponte-Leccia in the north of the French island, police said.

Police said a single hunting rifle was fired at least twice and that Costa died on the spot after being struck in the chest. The gunmen fled in a car that was later found burned a few kilometres (miles) from the village.

A bystander in the shop was also lightly injured by broken glass, police said.

Costa is the 11th presumed member of the "Brise de Mer" (Sea Breeze) gang killed since 2008 in what local police believe is a settling of accounts between criminal gangs.

The gang, named after a bar in the northeastern Corsican city of Bastia where members allegedly gathered, is considered one of the most powerful and influential criminal organisations on the island.

It is alleged to have carried out a series of daring armed robberies in the 1980s and 1990s.

Among them was Switzerland's biggest-ever bank robbery – the 1990 theft of 31.4 million Swiss francs (now worth €26 million/$32 million) from the Union Bank of Switzerland's branch in central Geneva. The money was never recovered.

The gang, whose presumed members often denied its existence at trial, was allegedly involved in a wide range of crimes from money laundering to illegal gambling.

Costa was among three alleged "Brise de Mer" members who spectacularly escaped from a Bastia prison in 2001 by having a fake fax ordering their release sent to the facility's warden.

All three, who were serving time on extortion and weapons charges, were later apprehended and are now dead. Before Costa, one was killed in explosion in 2009, the other gunned down the same year.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

TOURISM

‘Red lights’ as over-tourism threatens Corsican nature reserve

"It's nature's magical design," says a tourist guide, waxing poetic as he comments on the impressive red cliffs plunging into a turquoise sea at the Scandola nature reserve on France's Corsica island.

'Red lights' as over-tourism threatens Corsican nature reserve
A fisherman sails at sunrise off Ajaccio, Corsica. Photo: AFP

“Amazing!” exclaims Irena Snydrova, a Czech tourist visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site with her family, along with groups from Italy, Spain and France.

Their boat sidles up to the Steps of Paradise, rocks shaped into a stairway some 15 metres long, then glides on to Bad Luck Pass, a former pirates' redoubt.

The ages have sculpted the volcanic cliffs into myriad shapes that beguile the visitor, who might imagine a kissing couple here, a horse's head there, Napoleon's two-cornered hat further on…

The park, created in 1975, is an ecological dream, being a nature reserve and a protected marine zone that is listed by France's coastal protection agency and Natura 2000, in addition to its recognition by UNESCO.

It is a prime destination for the some three million people who visit Corsica each year, 75 percent of them in the summer.

The paradox is that growing numbers of tourists are drawn to Scandola's pristine waters and stunning geological vistas, endangering its fragile ecosystem.

The park, reached only by boat some 40 minutes from the tiny port of Porto,
stretches over 10 square kilometres of sea, and a somewhat smaller area of land.

“The reserve is a jewel for Corsica and the Mediterranean, but several red lights are flashing,” says marine biologist Charles-Francois Boudouresque, listing flora and fauna at risk, including ospreys, seagrass and fish species such as the brown meagre.

The tourist season coincides with the ospreys' mating season, notes Boudouresque, an emeritus professor at the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography.

Because of over-tourism, ospreys' “reproductive success is zero or near zero, with either no chicks or just one chick” per year, he says.

Boudouresque, who also heads Scandola's scientific advisory council, says the osprey could become extinct in 50 years.

Since last month, at the urging of the scientific council, boats must keep a distance of at least 250 metres from ospreys' nests during the breeding season.

“It's a good start,” Boudouresque says.

As for the marine park's fish species, Boudouresque says he thinks the thrumming of the tourist boats is scaring them away.

But a crew member, who gave his name only as Diego, blamed groupers for the declining population of corb. “They eat everything,” he told AFP.

Tensions have arisen pitting tour boat operators and fishermen against the reserve's conservationist Jean-Marie Dominici.

Boudouresque says the seagrass “is not in the best shape,” blaming the anchors dropped by the many boats — some of them private vessels without authorised guides.

“It's bizarre for a nature reserve to see all these boats,” said Pierre Gilibert, a 65-year-old doctor, who is a regular visitor. “It might be wise to allow access only to professional boats.”

Many share the opinion that private boats are not sufficiently monitored or informed of ecological concerns.

“This morning we saw people climbing on the rocks and berthing their boats in narrow passageways, which is not allowed,” said Gabriel Pelcot, chief mechanic on a cruise ship of the Corsican company Nave Va.

Nave Va, as well as rival Via Mare, uses hybrid vessels: they are powered by diesel up to the edge of the marine park, then switch to electric for a quieter and less polluting presence.

Pelcot notes that this green option is 30 percent more expensive, but he expects it to catch on.

“We must find a compromise between the need for tourists to enjoy this natural treasure and that of not killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” Boudouresque says.

The marine biologist is optimistic that general awareness of the problems is growing.

He envisions ways to marry tourism with preservation. One example, he says, would be to focus cameras on ospreys' nests so that they can be observed without being disturbed.

READ ALSO: 'Cat-fox' found on French island of Corsica may be a new species

SHOW COMMENTS