Mafia Boss Look-Alike Seized at Gunpoint, Thrown in Prison

Attorney blames Italian authorities for mix-up in the Hague
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 14, 2021 10:15 AM CDT
Mafia Boss Look-Alike Seized at Gunpoint, Thrown in Prison
Matteo Messina Denaro.   (Europol)

An Englishman who traveled to the Netherlands to take in a Formula One race got more excitement than he bargained for when he was mistaken for an Italian Mafia boss, wanted for more than 50 murders. The 54-year-old, identified by his attorney as Mark L., was seized at gunpoint by heavily armed police, who pulled a hood over his head, while dining with his son at a restaurant in the Hague around 5pm local time on Wednesday, report the Guardian and BBC. He was then taken to a maximum-security prison, where he stayed until Saturday.

Italian authorities had asked Dutch police to arrest the man, who'd attended the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort the previous weekend, believing him to be Matteo Messina Denaro, a godfather of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and subject of a European arrest warrant. The 59-year-old Mafia boss, who reportedly claimed to have "filled a cemetery" with his victims, has been on the run since 1993, when he allegedly organized bombings and the murder of a 12-year-old boy, whose body was dissolved in acid, per Reuters. He was convicted in absentia for his involvement in dozens of murders and sentenced to life in prison in 2002.

But "the man arrested, earlier this week, in a Hague restaurant, is not the man sought by Italian authorities," Dutch prosecutors said in a statement, per the Guardian. Mark was "more than surprised" by the mistake, which was only realized after he went before prosecutors, lawyer Leon van Kleef tells the Washington Post. He has a thick Scouse accent, specific to Liverpool and Merseyside, while Messina Denaro speaks strictly Italian, according to Europol.

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Van Kleef tells the Guardian that his client's wife, who was initially worried, "couldn't stop laughing" when she learned of the mix-up. But "it's like a bad movie," he adds, per the BBC, noting his client may seek compensation. "Imagine one moment you are having a bite to eat and the next you are ... in a maximum-­security Dutch prison," he says. Authorities have no recent photos of Messina Denaro and have therefore relied on digital reconstructions. (More mistaken identity stories.)

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