LONDON — When the Dutch police arrested a person final week on suspicion of being a fugitive Sicilian Mafia boss, on the request of the Italian authorities, the person’s Liverpool accent ought to have been a useless giveaway that that they had collared the improper particular person.
The 54-year-old British man, recognized solely as Mark L., had traveled to the Netherlands from Liverpool to attend a Formulation One automobile race, the Dutch Grand Prix, in Zandvoort on Sept. 5. He was having dinner together with his son at a restaurant in The Hague final Wednesday, when in keeping with a number of native information media experiences, armed cops arrested him, believing him to be Matteo Messina Denaro, a mobster who has been on Italy’s needed checklist since 1993.
Blindfolded, Mark L. was then transferred to a maximum-security jail, the place he was held in isolation.
The next day, Leon van Kleef, a legal 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 Mr. van Kleef’s colleague revealed who Mr. Messina Denaro was: a Sicilian mobster identified to have killed cops and prosecutors. He’s additionally needed for automobile bombings that killed dozens of individuals within the early Nineteen Nineties.
“I requested myself, ‘Why would this man ask for me, and the way does he know my title?’” Mr. van Kleef mentioned.
Intrigued, Mr. 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 buddy who was on trial within the Netherlands.
“He’s actually Liverpudlian, and never barely,” mentioned Mr. van Kleef, referring to Mark L.’s robust accent and deep household roots in Liverpool — not Sicily.
It was not till Saturday that Mr. van Kleef obtained phrase from the police that his consumer was to be launched after it was decided that he was not in truth an Italian mobster.
“The person arrested in a restaurant in The Hague final Wednesday shouldn’t be the person Italy is in search of,” the general public prosecution division mentioned in a press release on Saturday.
In accordance with Mr. van Kleef, Mark L.’s lawyer, an Italian police officer had seen an image of his consumer and had concluded that he was the fugitive Mr. Messina Denaro. The Italian authorities then notified the Dutch authorities, who arrested Mark L. with a European arrest warrant issued by the Italian authorities.
However, he mentioned, “there isn’t a similarity in any way between the picture that’s identified to public sources of Denaro, and the latest picture of my consumer.” He added: “They don’t even know if Denaro is alive, if he’s had facial surgical procedure.”
Italian media experiences prompt 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 Mr. Messina Denaro.
Nonetheless, Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italy’s chief anti-mafia prosecutor, defended officers in Trento, with out going into the small print of the case. “They operated within the right approach,” he mentioned in a press release.
The prosecutor’s workplace in Trento didn’t reply to a request for remark.
Often known as the “boss of all bosses,” Mr. Messina Denaro’s id and whereabouts have been largely unknown since he went lacking from his hometown in western Sicily in 1993. Investigators imagine that he not lives in Sicily however travels throughout Europe, the place there have been frequent however unsubstantiated sightings of the mobster.
In accordance with Lirio Abbate, a Sicilian journalist who wrote a ebook about Mr. Messina Denaro final yr, the Mafia boss stays extremely revered by his associates, his enterprise companions and even his many lovers, lots of whom have been jailed and had their belongings frozen by the police however haven’t betrayed him.
“Being hunted for therefore lengthy has augmented his fable,” Mr. Abbate mentioned.
The one photos out there of Mr. Messina Denaro are from a household album and have been taken within the Nineteen Nineties. However since publishing the ebook and showing in a Netflix TV sequence, “World’s Most Needed,” Mr. Abbate mentioned he had obtained a whole bunch of unsubstantiated photos from individuals who imagine to have seen Mr. Messina Denaro throughout the globe, together with cops.
“Most individuals imply nicely, however it’s troublesome even for investigators who’ve tried to trace him down for many years,” Mr. Abbate mentioned. “He in all probability not even sees folks. He sends letters and communicates with out taking any dangers. He’s knowledgeable in hiding.”