Misha Glenny’s superb account of the origins, spread, threat and political consequences of seriously organised crime makes compelling and relevant reading.
The BBC’s current hit McMafia makes full use of the multi-lingual ex-BBC Central European Correspondent’s considerable experience in conflict zones. Glenny worked with five script writers including David Farr (The Night Manager) to achieve its realistic punch and audacious execution.
Showing graphic scenes of violence from the series, Glenny explained that any ‘privatised law enforcement agency’ which requires serious state, police and rival recognition requires the discriminating threat or ultimate use of ‘muscle’. This could be Russian ex-Olympian wrestlers and weight lifters now out of a job – or ex-soldiers such as Afghan veterans hardened by years fighting the mujahideen. Seriously organised crime makes full use of violence – but ‘muscle’ is a valuable commodity.
Brutal conflict is frequently followed by State collapse. With law enforcement and justice systems weakened or virtually non-existent, crime flourishes with entrepreneurial flair. There are real opportunities in this ‘dazzling mixture of upheaval, hope and uncertainty’.
Licit and illicit genius for making money thrived on the liberalisation of money markets led by Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan in the 1980s. Rapid globalisation followed, and with unprecedented market opportunities for supplying the demand for drugs, prostitution, weaponry – huge amounts of cash generated crossed the globe virtually unchecked. Money laundering is rife.
Although seriously organised crime might be more visible on the streets of Bogata, Rio or Astana, Glenny challenged the UK government’s record of financial transparency to date. The huge influx of funds passing through the City of London, untrammelled by stringent regulation, and the government’s refusal to hold Crown Territories (global tax havens) to transparent account has contributed to the presence of seriously organised crime in the UK.
Glenny suggested that Brexit’s ‘take back control’ was risible in light of the above. Glenny stated that London’s booming property market was another draw to launder illicit funds. Quoting the NGO Global Witness, Glenny said that three London boroughs led the untraceable property ownership trail: properties left empty in Camden is 2220, in Kensington 6000 – but leading the pack, under the nose of Parliament is Westminster with 10,000 such properties.
‘If you think that’s unacceptable, write to your MP’, Glenny urged. In doing so, you will be part of a growing global movement for transparency and judicial and fiscal oversight – another kind of muscle. According to Glenny, ‘The game is on’.