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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid


I was two pages into the introduction of McMafia (ISBN 978-0-099-48125-6, Vintage publishers, 2009, B. 450 Bookazine) when I was hooked. By the end of the introduction there had been three organized gangland killings, with all the links being clearly shown.
He details the illicit trade in cigarettes through the Balkan area and just quietly drops in the fact that the cigarette manufacturers R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris were accused of being complicit and indicted by the EU prosecutors. Deals were done at high level, and the cigarette trade diminished, and the third player, the Colombian drug cartels who were laundering money at the same time had to look for other avenues.
Misha Glenny highlights the fact that international sanctions, whilst sounding good to those who propose them, are in actual fact some of the drivers of organized crime. This fact is also known by those who would sanction! A frightening thought. He writes, “Virtually overnight, the vote at the UN Security Council ordering sanctions created a pan-Balkan mafia of immense power, reach, creativity and venality.”
The Russian oligarchs are exposed and even the poisoned Alexander Litvinenko gets his mention. A fame I would not wish for myself or family. Another topical figure mentioned is Viktor Bout, currently resident in the Bangkok Jail and subject of much political argument. The machinations that occurred after the collapse of the former Soviet Union were many, and it is interesting to ponder on origins of the wealth of these extremely rich Russians.
The world mafia trades in drugs, cigarettes, oil, weapons and women, and anything else they can make money from by being part of the world’s chains of supply. The further you go in this book, the less you like your neighbors, be they Balkan, Russian, Jews, Saudi Arabians, Indians, Pakistanis, Brazilians, Colombians, Nigerians, South Africans, Canadians, Americans, Chinese, Japanese or even (dare I say it) Thailand.
The epilogue reinforces just how much we, as individuals, have a part to play. Chemical testing of the waters of the river Po show that the inhabitants are using one and a half tones of cocaine each year. And cocaine is not a crop irrigated by the river Po. Fudging on tax and VAT is costing some governments over 100 billion dollars a year. Which we all pay for in the end. And just as deplorable, the tax havens where the rich place their ill-gotten gains, like the British Virgin Islands, as used by a former Thai PM. At the back of the book there is a section called Notes on Sources.
This book is fascinating and well researched, and we are all part of the subject in one way or another. Organized crime is a world-wide phenomenon, hence the McMafia in the title. The book poses a question we probably do not wish to answer: what would we do under the circumstances? Profit or point the finger? As the author indicates, have you ever bought a pirated DVD, taken drugs or fallen for a ‘phishing’ scam? If the answer is yes, then you too have become the end user in a world-wide organized crime group.