When Dutch police arrested a person final week on suspicion of being a fugitive Sicilian Mafia boss, on the request of Italian authorities, the person’s Liverpool accent ought to have been a useless giveaway that that they had collared the fallacious individual.
The 54-year-old British man, recognized solely as Mark L., had traveled to the Netherlands from Liverpool to attend a Components One automobile race, the Dutch Grand Prix, in Zandvoort on Sept. 5. He was having dinner along with his son at a restaurant in The Hague final Wednesday, when in line with a number of native information media stories, armed cops arrested him, believing him to be Matteo Messina Denaro, a mobster who has been on Italy’s wished record since 1993.
Blindfolded, Mark L. was then transferred to a most safety jail, the place he was held in isolation.
The next day, Leon van Kleef, a prison protection lawyer in Amsterdam, was approached by native cops, who mentioned a person they suspected of being a Mafia boss and had arrested had particularly requested for him to be his authorized consultant.
A fast web search by van Kleef’s colleague revealed who Messina Denaro was: a Sicilian mobster recognized to have killed cops and prosecutors. He’s additionally wished for automobile bombings that killed dozens of individuals within the early Nineties.
“I requested myself, ‘Why would this man ask for me, and the way does he know my identify?’ ” van Kleef mentioned.
Intrigued, van Kleef visited the person in jail and acknowledged him — not because the Mafia boss he had seen on the web, however as a person from Liverpool he had met some 15 years in the past when he had delivered some clothes for a good friend who was on trial within the Netherlands.
“He’s actually Liverpudlian and never barely,” mentioned van Kleef, referring to Mark L.’s sturdy accent and deep household roots in Liverpool — not Sicily.
It was not till Saturday that van Kleef obtained phrase from police that his shopper was to be launched after it was decided that he was not actually an Italian mobster.
“The person arrested in a restaurant in The Hague final Wednesday will not be the person Italy is searching for,” the general public prosecution division mentioned in an announcement Saturday.
In response to van Kleef, an Italian police officer had seen an image of his shopper and had concluded that he was the fugitive Messina Denaro. Italian authorities then notified Dutch authorities, who arrested Mark L. with a European arrest warrant issued by Italian authorities.
However, he mentioned, “there isn’t any similarity in any way between the picture that’s recognized to public sources of Denaro and the current picture of my shopper.” He added: “They don’t even know if Denaro is alive, if he’s had facial surgical procedure.”
Italian media stories urged that prosecutors within the northern Italian city of Trento had pursued the case and didn’t seek the advice of investigators within the Sicilian city of Palermo, who’ve lengthy been chasing Messina Denaro.
Nonetheless, Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italy’s chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, defended officers in Trento, with out going into particulars of the case. “They operated within the appropriate means,” he mentioned in an announcement.
The prosecutor’s workplace in Trento didn’t reply to a request for remark.
Often known as the “boss of all bosses,” Messina Denaro’s identification and whereabouts have been largely unknown since he went lacking from his hometown in western Sicily in 1993. Investigators consider that he now not lives in Sicily however travels throughout Europe, the place there have been frequent however unsubstantiated sightings of the mobster.
In response to Lirio Abbate, a Sicilian journalist who wrote a e-book about Messina Denaro final yr, the Mafia boss stays extremely revered by his associates, his enterprise companions and even his many lovers, a lot of whom have been jailed and had their property frozen by police however haven’t betrayed him.
“Being hunted for therefore lengthy has augmented his fable,” Abbate mentioned.
The one photos obtainable of Messina Denaro are from a household album and had been taken within the Nineties. However since publishing the e-book and showing in a Netflix TV sequence, “World’s Most Needed,” Abbate mentioned he had obtained tons of of unsubstantiated photos from individuals who consider to have seen Messina Denaro throughout the globe, together with cops.
“Most individuals imply properly, however it’s tough even for investigators who’ve tried to trace him down for many years,” Abbate mentioned. “He in all probability now not even sees folks. He sends letters and communicates with out taking any dangers. He’s knowledgeable in hiding.”