Misha Glenny begins McMafia with the story of a young British woman gunned down in 1994 at her front door in a London suburb. A subsequent investigation revealed that the real target of this seemingly senseless crime had been her sister, who was married to an Armenian embroiled in the illegal arms trade. In the previous five years, that business had grown exponentially to supply groups in Eastern Europe, where civil wars raged incessantly. Apparently the Armenian had fallen out with his partners in crime, and apparently the traffickers had decided that murdering his wife would be an effective way to express their displeasure. Unfortunately, his sister-in-law was the one who ended up dead. The circumstances leading to this unfortunate woman’s death are indicative of the kinds of activities happening around the world in what Glenny describes as an exponential rise in the global shadow economy. Managing this vast enterprise of illegal businesses is a network of organized crime groups whose reach extends across the continents and whose annual net profits run into the billions. This new generation of criminals is the subject of Glenny’s extensive, well researched, and at times provocative study.
As Glenny is quick to point out, however, there have been underworld elements in virtually every country for decades, even centuries. These have ranged from bands of hoodlums to more sophisticated groups with well-defined hierarchies and elaborate mechanisms for handling their illicit income. What has changed during the last decades of the twentieth century is the propensity for regional or national groups to establish ties with organized crime elements in other countries, creating in effect international cartels for the production, distribution, and sale of illegal goods and servicesand for the equally important task of “laundering” money, transferring funds into legitimate businesses or investments to erase any trace of the activity from which they were originally obtained. The activities of organized crime have been aidedunintentionally, perhapsby the worldwide trend toward globalization. Liberalized rules in international financial markets have made it possible for criminal groups to operate around the world, banking their ill-gained profits with little fear of discovery by law-enforcement agencies.
Glenny finds the seeds for the rise of this new criminal class in the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he says ushered in this wave of transnational organized crime. Criminal enterprises sprang up in Bulgaria, in the countries that once made up Yugoslavia, in the Ukraine, in Moldova and its rebellious Transnistria province, and inside Russia itself, where a handful of new oligarchs robbed the state of its assets and made personal fortunes taking advantage of the vacuum created by the absence of strong law-enforcement agencies. Having explained in broad terms how these new international networks have emerged to capitalize on political instability, Glenny then takes his readers on a worldwide tour of countries where organized crime has set down roots and prospered: India, Dubai and other sovereignties in the United Arab Emirates (a favorite place for criminals to bank their earnings), Nigeria, South Africa, Colombia, Brazil, and a number of African nations, including Angola and Nigeria. One seemingly unlikely place is Israel, where recent Russian immigrants have brought with them the dubious skills they learned in the lawless environment that existed in their home land for more than a decade after the Soviet Union fell apart. Another is western Canada, which Glenny identifies as a center of drug operations in North America. The variety of activities in which criminal organizations have become involved is truly mind-numbing, ranging far beyond the more sensational and obviously reprehensible activities such as extortion, robbery, drug trafficking, prostitution, and gambling. Glenny provides example after example of ways enterprising criminals have made fortunes in smuggling legal goods such as cigarettes and caviar into countries where tariffs are high or quantities available through legal means are low. He also explains in some detail the newest form of illegal activity, cybercrimeidentity theft, bank fraud, and numerous scams aimed at separating unsuspecting citizens (especially in America and Europe) from their cash. The expansion of the Internet to all corners of the world, considered by many as a great boon, has made it possible for crime elements to communicate more effectively and avoid detection by law-enforcement agencies that have neither the staff nor the expertise to deal effectively with this new phenomenon.
An accomplished journalist able to get people on both sides of the law to speak freely with him, Glenny displays an unusual ability to ferret out the criminal infrastructure in countries as...
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