‘McMafia’: raising awareness of organised crime and human trafficking

STOP THE TRAFFIK has previously highlighted the role popular media plays in raising awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery. ‘Victoria’, whilst a historical drama highlighted issues of slavery, and more recently ‘Our Girl’, shone a light on human trafficking in instances of humanitarian disaster.


The Cast of McMafia. Photo: BBC Worldwide.

‘McMafia’ is a current BBC drama, based on the 2008 book McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime, by Misha Glenny. It centres on the Godmans, an exiled Russian family living in London, and their involvement in world of organised crime. This includes human trafficking. It shows this crime, entangled in the worlds of money laundering, counterfeiting, organised crime, corruption, and murder.

As part of this network, Lyudmilla, a Russian woman, is deceived into travelling to Cairo, Egypt, believing that she would be finding work as a beauty therapist. It emerges, however, that this is not the case. Lyudmilla is held captive by various men; being transported from city to city, crossing borders, and being held captive. Eventually, she is sold to be the property of Semiyon Kleiman, a key criminal and businessman in the show.

At STOP THE TRAFFIK, we know that this is not just a drama. An estimated 40.3 million, men, women and children around the world are victims of human trafficking. Lyudmilla, whilst fictional, demonstrates the many ways individuals can be deceived into slavery. The pretence of work as a beauty therapist, in Lyudmilla’s case, or the promise of a ‘better life’, education, or money, are just some of the many ways individuals can be tricked.

The show furthermore effectively highlights how individuals can remain trapped. Kleiman promises Lyudmilla that her ill mother would receive a kidney,“Mr Kleiman is a good man, he will look after you and your mother”. However, Lyudmilla has to earn this, entrapping her in debt to him.

Importantly, ‘McMafia’ depicts human trafficking as an organised crime, carried out by a highly sophisticated network of criminals.

“What this story is showing, is just how organised this crime is around the world. This isn’t just happening just off the cuff. This has serious organisation around it.” – Ruth Dearnley OBE, CEO of STOP TRAFFIK.


Lyudmilla (Sofia Lebedeva). Photo: Cuba Productions – Photographer: Nick Wall.

Lyudmilla is transported from Cairo, Egypt, to the Sinai Desert, to the Egypt-Israeli border, and into Israel, being transported between various men and traffickers, “These men will take you now.” She is not just trafficked by one person, but a wide network of individuals, requiring significant planning and organisation to coordinate and achieve this.

Furthermore, it becomes apparent in episode three that Lyudmilla is being used by Kleiman to uncover business plans and secrets from his competitors within the drug trafficking industry. This again highlights human trafficking as just an element of a wider network of money laundering, counterfeiting, corruption, and murder. Human trafficking is just one of Kleiman’s criminal business ventures, that span multiple countries (from Prague to Egypt to Mumbai) and trades, including drug trafficking, which can all be financed at just the click of a button.

It is for these reasons that STOP THE TRAFFIK seeks to prevent human trafficking through intelligence-led prevention, seeking to uncover this illicit activity and disrupt it at its source. We will not stop these criminals through prosecution alone. As we have seen in ‘McMafia’, even if one individual is removed or prosecuted, the organised crime networks continue to exist and thrive. We need an accurate and analysed global perspective of these criminal networks in order to combat them, which can only happen with the coordinated gathering and sharing of data. STOP THE TRAFFIK’s Centre for Intelligence-Led Prevention (CfILP) was established to collect global stories, connect them, and build a rich picture of human trafficking hotspots and trends. If we understand how and where human trafficking is taking place, we can prevent it.

What can you do?

Recognising the signs of human trafficking or modern slavery are essential in disrupting these crimes, learn how to ‘Spot the Signs’ here.

Download the STOP APP, and report any suspicious activity you have seen or heard.

‘McMafia’ actively demonstrates how criminal organisations are dependent on money. Alex Godman, “a crucial representative of the slick nature of modern international organised crime”1, can at the click of a button transfer vast amounts of money and capital, financing this criminal activity. Financial institutions are pivotal in preventing human trafficking. Read more about our business training, and how financial institutions can help in disrupting these crimes.


‘McMafia’ is currently being shown on BBC One, and can be watched on BBC iPlayer.



[1] Marriott, James (2018) ‘How True is McMafia?’: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-true-is-mcmafia-7b7fm0jgw

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