Netflix’s La Casa de Papel, or Money Heist follows a group of skilled individuals who are brought together in order to carry out a sophisticated heist. The group consists of eight members code-named after cities: Rio, Tokyo, Moscow, Berlin, Nairobi, Denver, Oslo, and Helsinki. They are tasked by a man named the Professor to conduct a multi-day assault on the Royal Mint of Spain.
How far do the gang in Money Heist represent a bona fide organized crime gang?
Mark Galeotti said:
Organized crime is a continuing enterprise, apart from traditional legal and social structures, within which a number of persons work together under their own hierarchy to gain power and profit for their private gain through illegal activities.
The heist crew has a specific hierarchy. At the top of the pyramid is the elusive yet highly intelligent professor who, although he does not accompany the crew on the heist, organizes everything and instructs the crew’s every move inside the Royal Mint. The professor’s second in command is Berlin, who leads the group from the inside and liaises with the professor. The rest follow under Berlin and have equal roles (See figure below). This resembles the standard or ‘traditional’ hierarchy of organized crime. Similarities can be drawn with the structure of the Italian Mafia and Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel.
Yet these guys are not criminal cut-throats. The group act like latter-day Robin Hoods. The group’s aim is not to steal money but rather to break into the mint, print money, and redistribute it. In the second season, for example, they release millions of euros onto Madrid’s streets for the benefit of the general public. They continue to give their proceeds back to the working class, which reminds us of those famous words of Robin Hood as contained in Joseph Ritson’s book:
[N]ever took anything from the poor, but charitably fed them with the wealth he drew from the abbots … he was the most humane and the prince of all robbers.
By acting like latter-day Robin Hoods, the gang win public support and they put a lot of effort into engaging the public and they play a large role in the success of their plan. The Professors realized that organized crime groups usually draw support from the public as long as their attacks are only on the state. This why the main objective of this crime was to print money and steal it from the state rather than the public.
The heist which the gang carry out, therefore, can be classed as a social crime. Social crimes that challenge the social and political order in order to encourage crime. Even their heist costumes symbolize their intention. Their wearing of a Salvador Dali mask represents ‘the resistance’ towards the ‘system’.
In the last few years, Spain has faced serving fiscal problems and high levels of unemployment while the elites do not seem to be doing enough to lift up the economy. An attack of their financial institutions can be seen as a protest from the working class in order to encourage change.
And just like Robin Hood and his men they have a strict code of conduct. The professor set various rules and regulation such as no killing and no communication to the outside. The robbers focus on limiting casualties and refuse to commit murder or serious harm. The professor doles out harsh penalties to those who break these laws. When Tokyo breaks one of the laws she was quickly dealt with and thrown out of the heist showing the value they attach to their code of conduct.
Like most criminal gangs, the lower members of the Money Heist organization are from ‘underworld’. The underworld, as Heather Shore points out, is usually an elite interpretation of the lives of the poor and working-class which condemns them as criminal. All the eight members of the heist do indeed have extensive rap sheets for petty crimes. However, this seemingly ‘criminal’ group of people decided to use their ‘underworld’ expertise in order to carry out the professor’s heist.
Thus, the criminal characters in Money Heist are strictly speaking an organized crime gang, but they are ‘good’ criminals—they enjoy support from the Spanish working class. Their strict code of conduct and adherence to the Robin Hood principle ensures their popularity. But, the heist was really a social crime: they want more for the working class and their heist is an act of political protest.
Fernandez, C. (2019). The Costume on La Casa de Papel Serves As a Symbol of the Resistance. [online] Oprah Magazine. Available at: https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/tv-movies/a28434016/la-casa-de-papel-money-heist-costume/.
Galeotti, Mark (ed.) (2008). Organized Crime in History. London and New York: Routledge.
Shore, Heather, 2015. London’s Criminal Underworlds, c. 1720 – c. 1930: A Social and Cultural History. Basingstoke: Palgrave.