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In French, le chiffre translates as either "the figure" (i.e. "the number") or "the cipher."
Le Chiffre (AKA "Herr Nummer", "The Number", and "Herr Ziffer") was earliest seen during 1945 as a inmate of the Dachau DP camp in the US Zone of Germany. Then in January 1946 he became the paymaster of the "Syndicat des Ouvriers d'Alsace" (SODA) (English:Union of Workers of Alsace), a SMERSH controlled trade union. He made a major investment in a string of brothels with money belonging to SMERSH. Three months later on April 13 the investment went bad after French Law No. 46685 known as Loi Tendant a la Fermeture des Maisons de Tolerance et au Renforcement de Tolerance et au Renforcement de la Lutte contre le Proxenitisme (popularly known as La Loi Marthe Richard) was passed, which made brothels and pornographic material illegal.
In an attempt to recover his money, he went to the casino in Royale-les-Eaux in an attempt to recover all of his lost funds. There, he hosted a big Chemin de Fer game (in which he was the banker) in order to obtain fifty million francs. During the game, Le Chiffre was prevented from obtaining this goal by James Bond. At first, Le Chiffre managed to completely clean Bond out. However, Felix Leiter gave thirty-two million francs to Bond and the British agent subsequently cleaned out Le Chiffre.
After the game, he kidnapped Vesper Lynd and disabled Bond's Bentley with tire spikes. Le Chiffre subsequently took Bond to a building and tortured him with a carpet beater and coffee for the location of the money he won. When it became apparent that Bond would not talk, he was about to castrate him when a SMERSH agent quickly executed him for failing to recover the funds.
Le Chiffre's death would later be seen by the Soviet government as an embarrassment, which in addition to the death and defeat of Mr. Big in Live and Let Die, led to the events of From Russia with Love. In the novel SMERSH attempts to get revenge by killing James Bond in an elaborate plot that would embarrass the British Secret Service within the intelligence community.