The most murderous place in Europe just got more dangerous

Shooting of business leader confirms new trend of high-profile Corsican killings

Paris

The assassination of a senior Corsican business leader has deepened fears that the most murderous place in Europe is spiralling into a new era of high-profile violence.

Jacques Nacer, 60, president of the southern Corsica chamber of commerce, was shot dead in his own shop on one of the busiest streets in the island's capital, Ajaccio. Mr Nacer, a popular secretary-general of the Athletic Club Ajaccio (ACA) football club, was the 17th person to be gunned down in Corsica this year.

There was a time when Corsican murders mostly involved relatively obscure members of the island's intertwined nationalist and criminal gangs. Mr Nacer's death confirms a disturbing new trend towards the assassination of leading figures in public life.

Exactly a month ago, one of the island's leading lawyers, Antoine Sollacaro, was shot dead while filling his car at a petrol station in Ajaccio. Both he and Mr Nacer were closely associated with Alain Orsoni, once the leader of a Corsican independence movement, now the president of ACA in the French first division.

Four men closely linked to Mr Orsoni have been murdered in the past two years. After the death of Mr Sollacaro last month, the French government announced that it would take new measures to crack down on "economic delinquency" in the island, especially in areas such as "property, sport, public procurement and coastal development".

Following the killing of Mr Nacer, the French Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, and Justice Minister, Christiane Taubira, abandoned appointments in Paris and brought forward a visit to Corsica planned later this month. At a press conference in Ajaccio yesterday, Mr Valls said the island was "part of France and part of the Republic" and would not be allowed to spin into a parallel world of criminal activity and tit-for-tat violence.

Mr Valls pointed out that Corsica, with 300,000 people, had 0.5 per cent of the population of France but 20 per cent of all its "revenge killings". The island is now estimated to be, proportionately, the most murderous and criminal place in the European Union – ahead of Sicily or Sardinia.

The Justice Minister, Ms Taubira, said: "We know there are links between crime and certain other kinds of [business] activity … Business sharp practices contribute to organised crime."

Mr Nacer, described by friends as a "jovial, warm, honest man" and one of the best-known faces in Ajaccio, was part of a Jewish family, which moved to Corsica during the Second World War.

He was shot in the head by a masked man on Wednesday night as he was closing his clothes shop on one of the busiest shopping streets in Ajaccio, 200 metres from the gendarmerie and national government headquarters.

Five years ago, Mr Nacer became head of the southern Corsica chamber of commerce and industry. His predecessor, Raymond Ceccaldi, has since been convicted of fraud in the allocation of state contracts to a local security company, the Société Méditerranéenne de Sécurité (SMS).

SMS, one of the biggest employers on the island, is said to be have been the subject of a tug-of-war between rival nationalist and business factions.

The company was known to provide jobs for people who had once been involved in clandestine separatist movements.

Its founder, Antoine Nivaggioni, a veteran Corsican nationalist leader and a close associate of Alain Orsoni and this week's victim Mr Nacer, was shot dead in the streets of Ajaccio in October 2010.

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