LONDON When Dutch police arrested a man last week on suspicion of being a fugitive Sicilian mafia boss, at the request of Italian authorities, Liverpool’s emphasis should have been a dead gift that they had grabbed the hand of the wrong person.
The 54-year-old British man, identified only as Mark L., had traveled to the Netherlands from Liverpool to take part in a Formula 1 car race, the Dutch Grand Prix, in Zandvoort on 5 September. He was having dinner with his son at a restaurant in The Hague last Wednesday, when according to some report local news media, armed police officers arrested him, believing he was Matteo Messina Denaro, a mobster who had been on the wanted list in Italy since 1993.
Blindfolded, Mark L. was then transferred to a high-security prison, where he was held in solitary confinement.
The next day, Leon van Kleef, a criminal defense lawyer in Amsterdam, was approached by local police officers, who said a man they suspected was a mafia boss and had arrested him had specifically asked him to be the representative his legal.
A quick internet search by Mr.’s colleague. Van Kleefs revealed who Mr. Messina Denaro: a Sicilian mobster known for killing police officers and prosecutors. He is also wanted for car bombings that killed dozens of people in the early 1990s.
I asked myself, why would this guy ask me and how does he know my name? Tha zoti van Kleef.
Intrigued, Mr. Van Kleef visited the man in jail and recognized him not as the mafia boss he had seen online, but as a man from Liverpool who had met about 15 years ago when he had handed over some clothes to a friend who was on trial in the Netherlands .
He’s really Liverpudlian, and quite a bit, said Mr. Van Kleef, referring to the strong emphasis of Mark Ls and the deep family roots in Liverpool not in Sicily.
Until Saturday, Mr. Van Kleef received word from police that his client would be released after it was determined he was not in fact an Italian mobster.
The man arrested at a restaurant in The Hague last Wednesday is not the man Italy is looking for, the public prosecutor’s office said. in a statement on Saturday.
According to Mr. Van Kleef, Mark Ls’s lawyer, an Italian police officer had seen a photograph of his client and had concluded that he was the fugitive Mr. Messina Denaro. Italian authorities subsequently notified the Dutch authorities, who arrested Mark L. with a European arrest warrant issued by the Italian authorities.
But, he said, there is no resemblance between the photograph that is known to Denaro public sources and my client’s last photograph. He added: They do not even know if Denaro is alive, if he has had facial surgery.
Italian media reports suggested that prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Trento had pursued the case and did not consult with investigators in the Sicilian city of Palermo, who had long been pursuing Messina Denaro.
However, Federico Cafiero De Raho, Italy’s chief anti-mafia prosecutor, defended officials in Trento without going into details of the case. They acted in the right way, he said in a statement.
The Trento prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Known as the boss of all bosses, the identity and location of Mr. Messina Denaros have been unknown since he disappeared from his hometown in western Sicily in 1993. Investigators believe he no longer lives in Sicily but travels across Europe, where he has been the frequent but unsubstantiated sight of the mobster.
According to Lirio Abbate, a Sicilian journalist who wrote a book about Messina Denaro last year, the mafia boss remains highly respected by his associates, his business partners and even many of his lovers, many of whom are prisoners and their belongings were frozen by the police but they did not betray him.
Being shot for so long has added to his myth, Abbate said.
The only photographs available of Mr. Messina Denaro are from a family album and were taken in the 1990s. But since the book was published and appeared on a Netflix TV series, Worlds Most Wanted, Abbate said he had taken hundreds of unsubstantiated photos from people who believe they have seen him. Mr. Messina Denaro across the globe, including police officers.
Most people say well, but it’s hard for even investigators who have been trying to find it for decades, Abbate said. He probably no longer sees people either. He sends letters and communicates without risk. He is a professional in concealment.
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