The police’s intended target: Matteo Messina Denaro, 59, a mafia boss from southern Italy considered a godfather of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra. Messina Denaro, who has a reputation for being a playboy, has been on the run from Italian authorities since 1993. He became known internationally after he was profiled in “World’s Most Wanted,” a 2020 Netflix documentary series about top fugitives.
But the man they arrested was born and bred in England, said Leon van Kleef, Mark L’s attorney, adding that his client had a thick Scouse accent — specific to the northern English city of Liverpool and hard to fake. (A criminal description by Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, lists Messina Denaro’s only language as Italian.)
Mark L was “more than surprised, one might say” by the reason for his arrest, van Kleef said. “It was [only] a matter of time for the situation to be resolved.”
Dutch and Italian prosecutors couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Messina Denaro, who faced life imprisonment after being convicted of a number of killings, was sentenced to another life term in absentia last October for his role in the 1992 murders of two anti-mafia prosecutors, according to Reuters.
Nicknamed “Diabolik,” after a comic book villain, the “playboy don” is known for driving fast cars and wearing designer clothes, according to a 2007 Time magazine profile of the world’s most notorious mafia bosses. Messina Denaro is alleged to have been behind numerous killings, including bomb attacks in Florence, Rome and Milan in the early 1990s that claimed 10 lives. According to the Netflix documentary, he once bragged about having “killed enough people to fill a small cemetery.”
In 1993, Messina Denaro allegedly helped organize the kidnapping of a 12-year-old boy, Giuseppe Di Matteo, in an attempt to silence his father, who was about to give evidence against the mafia, according to Reuters. Giuseppe was reportedly strangled and his body dissolved in acid.
Italian authorities didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on how the arrest mix-up in the Netherlands occurred. They have previously produced computer-generated photos of what Messina Denaro might look like now.
After reportedly being taken to a maximum-security prison in the Netherlands, Mark L was brought before prosecutors. He was released after officials confirmed the man they had arrested was not the man sought by Italian authorities on a European arrest warrant. Dutch prosecutors have dropped the case, van Kleef said.
“If they say ‘arrest this person,’ we arrest that person. That’s the mutual agreement we have with them,” a Dutch official told public broadcaster NOS.