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Misha Glenny, McMafia: A Journey through the Global Criminal Underground (New York: Vintage Books/Random House, April 2009). Originally U.K. edition April 2008; German hardcover edition January 2008). [Thesis. “It is not globalization in itself that has spurred the spectacular growth of organized crime in recent years but global markets that are either insufficiently regulated, especially in the financial sector, or markets that are too closely regulated, as in the labor and agricultural sectors” (345).] Foreword to the Vintage Edition. The financial crisis presents an opportunity to reform a global system that has facilitated the rise of McMafia (ix). Since publication, drug cartels have moved into Sierra Leone and Liberia, Chinese criminal syndicates continue to infiltrate and contaminate production chains, northern Mexico has become a drug war slaughterhouse (x). The Sicilian Mafia has collapsed, but other Italian crime syndicates have filled the vacuum (x-xii). Introduction. The 1994 killing in southern England of Karen Reed, sister of Alison Ponting, whose husband was involved in a Chechen political mafia (xiiixv). The dissolution of the post-WWII order had its roots in globalization’s liberalization of financial and commodity markets in the early 1980s (xv-xvi). Criminals, first from Russia and Eastern Europe, then from other countries like India, Colombia, and Japan, took advantage of opportunities, especially in a “thick belt of instability” stretching from the Balkans to Western Pakistan and China (xvii-xviii). Acc. figures from the World Bank and IMF, the illicit economy now makes up 15-20% of global GDP and has links to licit economic and political institutions (xix). Crime is “incomparably more damaging” to people’s lives than terrorism (xix-xx). PART I: THE FALL OF COMMUNISM Ch. 1: Death of an American. Ilya Pavlov, a Bulgarian who became a U.S. citizen, murdered in March 2003 in Sofia, was an entrepreneur who devised a way for Communist elites to transition into control of free-market economies (3-12). Car theft rings posed as insurance companies (12-16). Prostitution offers an easy entry level for aspiring criminals (16-19). The U.N.’s economic sanctions on Serbia and Montenegro fostered the criminal underground (19-20). Ch. 2: Bloody Lucre. Montenegro’s president in the early 1990s, Milo Djukanovic, was typical of leaders involved with organized crime—in his case, cigarette smuggling (21-27). In Croatia, arms smuggling (27-29). Various Balkan smuggling rings (29-33). Serbian gangs (Arkan; ‘Vanja’ Bokan; the Zemun gang) were tougher and better organized (33-40). In 2000 they got involved in cocaine smuggling from Colombia and Bolivia (41-45). Ch. 3: The Mafiya: Midwives of Capitalism. Caviar smuggling in Kazakhstan and Russia (46-53). Extortion rackets in Russia, gruppiorovki, “ in fact privatized law enforcement agencies,” (54; 53-56). The appropriation of Russia’s wealth by robber barons was facilitated by bureaucrats and organized crime (56-59). Disputes are resolved in strelka, or conferences, among krysha (protection agencies); an inevitable outgrowth of the way Russia’s transition to capitalism was handled, they were much more widespread and had a quasi-legitimacy that the Cosa Nostra never had (59-63).
“No societies are free from organized crime except for severely repressive ones” (61). Sergei Mikhailov presided over the Solntsevo mob, an empire of gangs (known for throwing extravagant tasteless parties) that went into banking (63-67). In the 1990s security entities deriving from the Soviet Union farmed themselves out to oligarchs and engaged in war; Putin, having restored the prestige of the KGB “in its novel guise as the FSB,” tolerates former crime bosses but has reigned in the oligarchs, creating a sort of “market authoritarianism” (6770). Ch. 4: Spreading the Word. Tomas Machacek, an honest Czech policemen whose work was sabotaged in the 1990s by organized crime (71-74). Tamas Boros, murdered in Budapest in 1998, was involved in a heating oil scam (7477). Semion Mogilevich, believed to be the top figure in Russian organized crime (72-73, 77-78). The “mysterious, inscrutable” ETG scam, raking in hundreds of millions from Gazprom sales, exemplifies criminal activity with state backing: “It is hard to ascertain whether it was gross corruption or simply criminal, or, indeed, where the boundary between the two lies” (80; 77-82). Organized crime in Ukraine (82-87). Odessa, controlled by mobster Karabas, is close to Transnistria, a breakway province of Moldova that is “the quintessential gangster state” (91; 87-93). A visit to Tiraspol, capital of Transnistria (93-96). PART II: GOLD, MONEY, DIAMONDS, AND BANKS Ch. 5: Aliyah. [The Hebrew word for immigration of Jews to Greater Israel; literally ‘ascent.’] Russian immigration to Israel has created an organized crime problem there (99-105). The trafficking of “Ludmila Balbinova,” who ended up in a Tel Aviv brothel, with AIDS (105-10). Russian crime’s connection unsurprising because “[a] disproportionate number of
the most influential Russian oligarchs and gangsters were Jewish,” a fact many prefer to pass over in silence, but which Glenny explains by the glass ceiling for Jews in Soviet society (112; 110-14). Israel is “an ideal place to invest or launder money” (111; 120). Corruption is on the increase in Israel, where globalization is undermining the collectivist ethos of Zionist society (11417). Gambling and drugs (117-20). Ch. 6: Xanadu I. [India & Dubai, a “stately pleasure dome for the world’s superrich” (153).] The bombing with RDX of the Bombay (since 1997 Mumbai) Stock Exchange on Mar. 12, 1993 (12125). Dubai (125-27). Gold smuggling and Bombay gang wars; Dawood Ibrahim’s criminal network (127-39). Ch. 7: Xanadu II. Rakesh Maria breaks the stock exchange bombing case, which was carried out by a criminal syndicate (140-44). Interview with a Bombay contract killer (144-46). Dubai is an international center of money laundering, facilitated by the deregulation of financial markets (146-60). Ch. 8: The Theater of Crime. [Nigeria] Nigerian “419” (from the Nigerian criminal code) or advance fee scams, facilitated by deregulation (161-82). Ch. 9: Black and White. [South Africa] How South Africa became “the new pivot for the international drug trade” by taking advantage of the juxtaposition of first and third world populations, with additional comments on criminal involvement in African resource wars in Angola and Congo (183-207). PART III: DRUGS AND CYBERCRIME Ch. 10: Buddies. [British Columbia] The marijuana industry in British Columbia, a $5bn industry in 2006, 6% of its GDP (210-17). Canadian antiAmericanism fuels sentiment in favor of
legalization (218-23). Narcotics is the heart of organized crime; the U.N. estimates it accounts for “70 percent of financial resources available to organized crime,” and legalization would undermine this (223; 223-27). British intelligence reports demonstrate the inefficacy of narcotics prohibition (227-31). David Soares, D.A. of Albany County in N.Y . State, advocates legalization (231-35). The U.S. war on drugs (235-39). Ch. 11: March of Fear. [Colombia] Soldiers. The 30-year war in Colombia, probably the most dangerous country on earth (240-45). Narco-traffickers. Unlike other drug-infested countries, Colombia is a rich country with a sophisticated economy; drugs account for only 1 to 3% of GDP (246-52). Guerrillas. The FARC is “an organized military force” (254; 253-58). Paramilitaries “have long enjoyed impunity and immunity for their role in the narcotics trade” (260; 258-61). Gringos. The war on drugs has not reduced American consumption (261-63). Ch. 12: Code Orange. [Brazil] Brazil has become a center of cybercrime, which uses music downloads, pornography, and fake emails to gain access to computers (264-73). Brazil’s favelas and Brazilian organized crime (274-80). Brazil’s connection to Chinese counterfeit contraband (280-84). PART IV: THE FUTURE OF ORGANIZED CRIME Ch. 13: The Overunderworld. [Japan] Japan’s yakuza is “the largest and most meticulously organized protection racket in the world” (287-98; 300-12). Diego Gambetta’s The Sicilian Mafia is “an utterly convincing theory of the Mafia” as a “business of protection”; Wolfgang Herbert has followed his lead in studying Osaka’s underworld (298-300). Yakuza tattoos (301-02). Yakuza helps explain why Japan has so few lawyers (303).
Relations to the state (304-05). Three leading families (306). A struggle to control pachinko gambling (307-08). The yakuza is mostly limited to Japan (30912). Ch. 14: The Future of Organized Crime. [China] The development of the Political Criminal Nexus (PCN) in China since the 1990s, produced by the inexorable logic of China’s economic system (313-19). Fuzhou, the center of China’s illegal trade in migrant labor (319-25). Mao eradicated the opium trade but since Deng’s reforms heroin and organized crime are coming back (325-31). Shenzhen is a city of 12m that has grown up in 20 years as a center of counterfeiting (331-33). “The European Union Commission estimates that fake goods around the world are worth between $250 and $500 billion a year. Of these about 60 percent originate in the People’s Republic of China—between 20 and 25 percent of exports from China are counterfeits, while between 85 and 90 percent of products sold in the domestic Chinese market are fake” (33334). Tony Tung’s cigarette smuggling operation in southern Fujian paid off foreign officials, including North Koreans who are emerging as counterfeiters and engaging with the global criminal economy (336-38). The Container Security Initiative is probably easily penetrable by organized crime (338-41). Epilogue. All consumers are involved in the world of transnational organized crime (343). Global regulation of financial markets is urgently needed (344-45). “It is not globalization in itself that has spurred the spectacular growth of organized crime in recent years but global markets that are either insufficiently regulated, especially in the financial sector, or markets that are too closely regulated, as in the labor and agricultural sectors” (345). Acknowledgments.
A Note on Sources. This book is primarily based on 300 interviews, 20042007 (names that have been changed are italicized on first appearance). Diego Gambetta’s The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection (Harvard UP, 1993) was a key influence. Notes give a handful of titles for each chapter. Index. 16 pp. About the Author. Misha Glenny was educated at Bristol Univ. in England and Charles Univ. in Prague. He was Central Europe correspondent for the BBC World Service in the early 1990s; his reporting on Yugoslavia won a Sony Award in 1993. He lives in London. He is the author of The Rebirth of History: Europe in the Age of Democracy (1990), The Fall of Yugoslavia: The Third Balkan War (1992), and The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804-1999 (1999). [Additional information. Misha Glenny has earned a reputation as one of the leading journalists covering the Balkans. Born in 1958, he is the son of Michael Glenny (1927-1990), a Russian studies academic and translator. Misha is the Russian diminutive of ‘Michael’; his name has contributed to a myth that he has Slavic connections, but in fact he is British. His mother’s family was from Sussex. He was raised in “arty-farty” circles in Notting Hill in London. His parents separated when he was 13. He attended Magdalen [pronounced ‘modlin’] College School in Oxford before
university. Glenny is married to journalist and broadcaster Kirsty Lang; they have one child; Glenny also has two children from a previous marriage that ended in 1994. In February 2009 he wrote: “The children are used to me travelling and I take a lot of care to ensure my security. My job can be dangerous but no story is worth getting killed for. I feel a strong sense of responsibility that I must be around until the children have finished university. At least then I will have done the basics.”] [Critique. Glenny’s journalistic style (“As Pavel Ciobanu ushers me into his Audi . . .”) often charms but can be an impediment to clarity. Part I is an ambitious attempt to piece together how the elements of a global system of illegal commerce sprang up thanks to globalization. The rest of the book consists of essays on Israel, India, Dubai, Nigeria, South Africa, British Columbia, Colombia, Brazil, Japan, and China. The author’s reports are brisk and informative. They are rich in detail but avoid technical issues. Glenny gains the reader’s trust, and it would be difficult not to admire the courage with which he has pursued inherently dangerous stories. He has a sense of history and the big picture, and an interest in ways of conceptualizing the activities of the criminal underground. These he generally regards as due to social circumstances (structures, not national characteristics) rather than inherent human depravity—except in the area of prostitution.]
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