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Financial Crime – When Fact and Fiction Collide


Over 8 million of us have been gripped by the BBC drama series McMafia. It follows the life of Alex Godman, son of a Russian mafia boss in their world of organised crime. Although fiction, it was ‘inspired’ by a non-fiction book by journalist Misha Glenny, written ten years ago. This explored the rise of the mafia following the fall of the Soviet Union and the deregulation of the financial markets in 1989. We’re now seeing a whole new wave of reality as the series has created widespread exposure of London being used as a playground for Russian gangsters and the super rich.

Earlier this week security minister Ben Wallace applauded the programme for raising public awareness of corruption. He has said that criminals would feel ‘the full force of government’, on a crackdown on Britain being used as a haven for corruption. This has led to wealthy Russian oligarchs to write to President Vladimir Putin to ask if they can return home without fear of arrest. It’s been revealed that some of the ten businessmen known to have done this had fled the country so as not to be detained there. Further applications are expected.

A movement set to tackle this has been the introduction of Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) last week. They allow the government to freeze suspicious assets worth more than £50,000 until they have been properly accounted for. Speaking to The Times, Mr Wallace said that dozens of potential targets have already been identified and that the orders ‘can be used against everyone from a local drug trafficker to an international oligarch or overseas criminal’. He went on to explain that proceeds from seized assets will fund the law enforcement against it.

It is estimated that around £90billion of illegal funds is laundered through the UK every year. The ‘Azerbaijani Laundromat’ scandal exposed last September was responsible for £2.2 billion of this alone. While financial crime is still a real issue, original writer Glenny holds hope for the future. When asked for his take on things a decade on after his investigation he said, “we now have a lot of people and a lot of organisations standing up and saying this level of corruption, these tax havens, this type of money laundering is unacceptable…(there is a) real fight on to do something about it by organisations and individuals around the world.”

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