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Horror crimes of "The Devil" mafia boss caught up in bizarre restaurant mix-up
September 15, 2021
You couldn't make it up.
An innocent Formula 1 fan eating lunch with his son at an Amsterdam restaurant was swarmed by cops, who were convinced he was one of Europe's most wanted gangsters.
Yet the arrested 54-year-old, who has only been named as Mark L, was soon found to be the victim of an extraordinary case of mistaken identity.
His Scouse accent was so strong, cops realised, the fugitive mob chief could not have faked it.
Matteo Messina Denaro, 59, has many specialist skills, but accents are not one of them.
The Sicily-born professional gangster and one of the Italian mafia's most important leaders, Denaro has been on the run since he was implicated in two major bombings in the early 1990s.
After shockwaves erupted through Sicily in mid-1992 and lawyers prosecuting the mob were found dead, Denaro's organisation was immediately suspected.
Yet Denaro and other mob chiefs responded to the new police attention by planning more attacks.
In 1993 alone, four massive explosions rocked Florence, Rome and Milan.
Ten lay dead and almost 100 were wounded.
The mafia had replied in quite a fashion, but the families also overplayed their hand.
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Denaro was forced to flee, briefly living with his mother and unable to meet his young daughter.
That instant escape only confirmed authorities' suspicions he was responsible for the deadly bombings.
Finally in 2002, he was found guilty in absentia from court for his part in the 1993 attacks – and sentenced to life in prison.
Since then, Denaro has been one of Europol's most wanted – and would face an immediate lifetime prison sentence were he caught.
So it's easy to see why cops were eager to arrest a man they felt looks uncannily similar.
Yet despite the infamous bombings for which Denaro achieved notoriety and was forced to exile, they aren't the full extent of his glittering career as a gangster.
According to hit Netflix series World's Most Wanted, Denaro has bragged about killing enough people "to fill a small cemetery".
With experts estimating his personal death toll at around 50, Denaro isn't lying.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002 for his part in the 1993 bombings, but received yet another life term on top only last October for his part in the 1992 killings of prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.
Falcone, his wife and three cops in his security detail were killed when their cars were blown up on a Sicily motorway.
Borsellino was murdered with five others by a bomb while he crossed a Palermo street to visit his mum two months later.
Denaro is from Castelvetrano, a small town in west Sicily known for its picturesque scenery.
His dad Don Ciccio was the boss of the local gang, teaching his son to use a gun at 14.
Denaro set out to define himself as a young adult when he assassinated a rival crime boss and ordered the strangling of his pregnant girlfriend.
He then pursued a playboy reputation, eschewing the old-fashioned conservative values of the Italian mob.
Often spotted wearing Ray-Bans in a Porsche while in his pomp, Denaro was as interested in his public persona as the dark arts which made his family among Sicily's most successful.
A Sicily court heard last year Denaro helped organise the kidnapping of 12-year-old Giuseppe Di Matteo in an attempt to discourage his dad talking to authorities.
After two years in captivity, Giuseppe was strangled and his body dissolved in acid.
Though the Cosa Nostra is not nearly as powerful as it was in the 80s and 90s, gangs' involvement in the European drugs trade has given the mob a new lease of life.
For now, however, Denaro's life will have to remain hidden carefully if he wants to stay out of jail.