There are plenty of examples of criminal syndicates attaining local, regional, or even national power through corruption, while still, at least formally, pursued by the judicial system: Mexico, Russia, Italy and Colombia currently or historically to name a few. In some cases, they may even have widespread public support. I'm wondering if things have ever gone further, and a criminal organisation has ever gone on to be formally accepted as part of a government, or even replaced one. I am not talking about insurgent organisations such as the Taliban or IRA, I mean standard organised criminals. I presume the answer is no, but seeing as the British East India Company kind of became a de facto state, I guess I might be surprised.

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    Documenting preliminary research will improve both the probability of an answer and the quality of the answer(s). Defining "formal" (?recognized?) and "criminal" (what's the difference between criminal and insurgent?) would probably help - Walter Cronkite once advanced the example of the Nazi party. I suspect that every time this happens (by definition) the criminal organization first becomes an insurgent organization.
    – MCW
    Oct 5, 2022 at 13:28
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    I believe the answer depends on how you define your terms. A classic criminal group violates the law to achieve economic benefit. If you expand that to include political benefit, then that really opens up the field.
    – Smith
    Oct 6, 2022 at 13:24
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    Start with all the forcible takeovers of government by the 20th Century communists under Lenin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and others less well known. All of these led "criminal organizations" in violent rebellion. Being ultimately "successful" doesn't negate the criminality of the takeover. Oct 6, 2022 at 13:56
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    I agree that the question isn't possible to answer without very precise defintion and scope. A relevant and famous article by historical sociologist Charles Tilly compared state-building, war-making and organized crime: canvas.harvard.edu/files/10047356/download?download_frd=1
    – Brian Z
    Oct 6, 2022 at 17:57
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    @NeMo "If someone wants to be the leader of a country, they must be interested in something more than personal enrichment." You'd thinks so, but kleptocracies are a thing: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kleptocracy Oct 7, 2022 at 12:36

2 Answers 2


If you are talking about a criminal gang or a crime syndicate taking over a country and forming a government, I think that was not possible.

However, numerous cases exist where a country became a Mafia State.

According to Wikipedia -

- A mafia state is a state system where the government is tied to organized crime to the degree when government officials, the police, and/or the military become part of the criminal enterprise.

Also, there is something called Narco State.

- Narco-state (also narco-capitalism or narco-economy[a]) is a political and economic term applied to countries where all legitimate institutions become penetrated by the power and wealth of the illegal drug trade.


One case that came near might have been the island of New Providence, the main island of the Bahamas. During the 17th century British settlement came under attack by French and Spanish navies and most settlers left, leaving the island mostly to pirates. In 1695, British Governor Nicolas Trott rebuilt the town and fort under the name of Nassau.

In 1703 and 1706, the fort was again attacked by the French and Spanish. It was destroyed and abandoned. From then on, the number of pirates was ever-increasing, and the number of "civilian" settlers dwindling. It gave rise to the term "Republlic of Pirates" and culminated in 1713 when Thomas Barrow declared himself Governor of New Providence.

It took until 1718 for the British government to send a new Governor. Woodes Rogers was able to re-establish his rule, and by 1720 was no longer challenged.

So while in the eleven years without a Governor on-site, the British formally maintained they were still in possession of the island, but de facto it was self-governed by the pirates, mostly without forming a formal government.

The other purported pirate's republic, Libertatia on the island of Madagascar, remains an account whose historical reality was never established.

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