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 they’d collared the fallacious particular person.
The 54-year-old British man, recognized solely as Mark L., had traveled to the Netherlands from Liverpool to attend a System One automotive 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 experiences, armed law enforcement officials arrested him, believing him to be Matteo Messina Denaro, a mobster who has been on Italy’s wished 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 prison protection lawyer in Amsterdam, was approached by native law enforcement officials, 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 recognized to have killed law enforcement officials and prosecutors. He’s additionally wished for automotive 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 identify?’” 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 good friend 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 acquired phrase from the 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 isn’t the person Italy is in search of,” the general public prosecution division mentioned in an announcement on Saturday.
In line with Mr. van Kleef, Mark L.’s lawyer, an Italian police officer had seen an image of his shopper 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 photograph that’s recognized to public sources of Denaro, and the current photograph of my shopper.” He added: “They don’t even know if Denaro is alive, if he’s had facial surgical procedure.”
Italian media experiences recommended 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 appropriate approach,” he mentioned in an announcement.
The prosecutor’s workplace in Trento didn’t reply to a request for remark.
Generally 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 line 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, a lot of whom have been jailed and had their property frozen by the police however haven’t betrayed him.
“Being hunted for thus lengthy has augmented his fantasy,” Mr. Abbate mentioned.
The one footage accessible 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 collection, “World’s Most Wished,” Mr. Abbate mentioned he had acquired lots of of unsubstantiated footage from individuals who imagine to have seen Mr. Messina Denaro throughout the globe, together with law enforcement officials.
“Most individuals imply effectively, however it’s tough even for investigators who’ve tried to trace him down for many years,” Mr. Abbate mentioned. “He most likely not even sees individuals. He sends letters and communicates with out taking any dangers. He’s an expert in hiding.”