Former BBC correspondent Misha Glenny, who was born in the UK and studied at Oxford, was advised he could be targeted by criminals in eastern Europe after his book was published.
The eight-part BBC One drama based on his exposé of organised crime networks involved in drug smuggling and sex trafficking, is now a big hit for the BBC, starring James Norton as City fund manager Alex Godman.
Glenny said: “I was warned off going to Bulgaria and going to Montenegro after the book was published and I took those warnings quite seriously.”
Despite being published a decade ago in 2008, he believes the book is still relevant, particularly in the UK, where many rich Russians and so-called oligarchs emigrated in the 1990s.
“London is the focus, although my researches started in the Balkans, then to Russia and all other parts of the world,” he said.
“I did keep coming back to London because of the fact that London welcomed a lot of money from all over the world without actually scrutinising entirely where it was coming from.
“I was doing this research in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but what’s really astonishing is that 10 years later, it couldn’t be more timely because everybody now knows that this is going on under our very noses.”
Many crime bosses featured in the series closely mirror real-life criminals in the book.
Ruthless Moscow gangster Vadim is most likely based on Semyon Mogilevich (called “Papa” in the book), who Glenny says is “probably the most powerful Russian mobster alive” and “one of the most dangerous men in the world”.
The sex trafficking story about a young woman, Lyudmilla, is based on a real-life woman in the book, also called Lyudmilla.
After arriving in Egypt, the book says “she was bundled into a Jeep and driven for several hours” to a Bedouin camp and saw another woman shot in the knees.
The character Semiyon Kleiman, who in the TV drama wants Godman to launder his millions, is close to Ze’ev Rosenstein, an Israeli gangster with political links.
The author said: “It’s not very often you get non-fiction books turned into a drama series but I knew these writers wanted to maintain that authenticity.
“When they took one or two of the stories, more or less directly from the book, I was deeply flattered but also I was confident that what we were going to see, as a fiction, was actually indistinguishable from the reality.”
Glenny, who makes a cameo appearance as a BBC reporter in the drama, explained the thinking behind the title.
“It goes back to a conversation I had in Moscow about the Chechen mafia who were established in the country,” he said.
“I was told they used to sell their name to organised crime groups in other Russian cities who had to pay them to use the term ‘Chechen mafia’ but also had to promise that they would be suitably ruthless.
“The person describing this said ‘It’s like they’re the McMafia’.”
The third episode of McMafia is on BBC One tonight at 9pm.
Published at Sun, 07 Jan 2018 00:01:00 +0000