Acclaimed journalist to dig deep into criminal underworlds

Fearless reporter Mariana van Ziller

Fearless reporter Mariana van Ziller

Published May 18, 2024


In the highly anticipated fourth episode of National Geographic's Emmy-nominated documentary series “Trafficked Underworlds”, multi-award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent Mariana van Zeller will delve further into criminal underworlds.

The docu-series, set to premiere on Thursdays at 21:00 on May 23, 2024, on National Geographic (DStv 181), will explore the complex and often dangerous inner workings of the global black-market underworld.

In doing so, Van Zeller shares the taxing process of digging into a story and takes viewers on the emotional roller coaster that provides a 360° view of the trafficking world from the perspective of the smugglers, law enforcement, and those caught in the crossfire.

Investigative journalist Mariana van Zeller on the beat.

Mariana explores a new underworld in each episode, using National Geographic's renowned insider access to get to know the characters, understand the industry, and gain a deeper understanding of the global multi-trillion-dollar shadow economy.

She infiltrates the networks of assassins, sextortion, body parts, illicit gambling, drug mules, black market medication, apes, and migrant smugglers in trafficked underworlds. In order to gain a deeper understanding of the world's expanding multi-trillion-dollar shadow economy, meeting with both the traffickers and the victims.

Episodes this season include the following:


In order to navigate this deadly trade, Van Zeller first tracks down an assassin in her hometown of Los Angeles before travelling to South Africa, where contract killings are now practically a regular occurrence.


She looks into “sextortion”, a new form of blackmail where victims are blackmailed using compromised images.

Body parts

She discovers throughout her research that anyone can fall prey to human remains trafficking, regardless of whether they have opted to donate their corpse to science, be cremated, or have a traditional burial.

Black Market Meds

Americans spend more per capita on prescription drugs than anywhere else in the world. That’s why nearly 20 million US citizens are turning to the black market for their medications – and why criminals are eager to cash in on the rising demand.

In this episode, Mariana heads to Mexico and India to meet some of the underworld opportunists risking the lives of vulnerable patients.


She heads to the Congo to investigate the illegal trade of wild apes, pushing them to the brink of extinction. She’ll follow the supply chain from the poachers to the brokers and ultimately to the buyers, many in the Middle East, who use these apes as pets and in sideshow attractions.

Migrant Smugglers

As the debate over America’s broken immigration system continues to boil, Van Zeller heads to Mexico to investigate the billion-dollar business of people smuggling to the US while following a 2 000-mile (3 218-km) trail from Tapachula to the US border.

Hash Smugglers

The first drug that she was exposed to growing up in Portugal continues to be Europe’s favourite: hash. The booming popularity of this seemingly “soft drug” holds a dark secret.

Illegal Gambling

Americans love to gamble. The legal market made $53 billion (R965bn) in 2021. And yet that total is dwarfed by an illegal gambling underworld that rakes in an estimated one trillion dollars annually.

The Drug Mule Scam

When she learns that 66-year-old American Rodney Baldus is locked up in a prison in Mozambique for drug running, she begins an investigation unlike any she’s done before.

Caught in an African Coup

An investigation into rumours of gold mining funding terrorist groups in Niger gets turned on its head after a military coup puts the country on lockdown.

Saturday Star

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