Briton mistaken for Mafia godfather hooded and arrested ... but he was just an F1 fan out for lunch

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A police officer shows a computer generated image of Mafia top boss Matteo Messina Denaro, at the Palermo police headquarters, southern Italy in 2007 - Alessandro Fucarini /AP
A police officer shows a computer generated image of Mafia top boss Matteo Messina Denaro, at the Palermo police headquarters, southern Italy in 2007 - Alessandro Fucarini /AP

A British man was hooded, handcuffed and bundled away by armed police while eating lunch after being mistaken for a Mafia crime boss in the Netherlands.

The 54-year-old man, identified by his lawyer only as Mark L, was having a meal with his son at a restaurant in the Hague when he was arrested.

The British Formula One fan, from Liverpool, was staying in the Netherlands after watching the Dutch Grand Prix.

His lawyer said it would have been "a genius of an Italian to have such a strong Liverpool accent".

He was taken to a maximum security jail following his arrest in the Hague last Wednesday.

The arrest came after Italy asked Dutch authorities to execute an international arrest warrant for Sicilian crime boss Matteo Messina Denaro, who has been in hiding since 1993.

Denaro, nicknamed "Diabolik", is wanted for 50 murders and is the "capo di tutti capi" - the boss of all bosses - of the Sicilian Mafia. He is one of Europe's most wanted fugitives.

Europol profile of Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy's most wanted mafia fugitive
Europol profile of Matteo Messina Denaro, Italy's most wanted mafia fugitive
An Italian Police officer in Palermo, Sicily, looks on at graffiti on the perimeter wall of the city's cathedral, portraying Matteo Messina Denaro, a fugitive Mafia boss from the city of Trapani, in western Sicily - Alessandro Fucarini/AP
An Italian Police officer in Palermo, Sicily, looks on at graffiti on the perimeter wall of the city's cathedral, portraying Matteo Messina Denaro, a fugitive Mafia boss from the city of Trapani, in western Sicily - Alessandro Fucarini/AP

The arrested man was eventually "sprung" by his Dutch lawyer, Leon van Kleef, from a maximum security jail in Vught.

He remained in prison until last Saturday, while his identity was checked by Italian authorities.

Mr van Kleef said: "Sometimes in the practise of law things that might go quick take ages. The press release has helped but it took three days. 

"I went to the press in the hope of speeding things up because normally it's a matter of time. You can imagine. He had anger and disbelief and laughter. Because it is ludicrous. He is a normal Formula One fan.

"I was always convinced he was not it. It would have been a genius of an Italian to have such a strong Liverpool accent."

Mr van Kleef said the British man did not wish to be identified and would not comment further on the case.

A spokeswoman for the Public Prosecutor's Office said the arrested man stated he was "an English citizen and not the person claimed by Italy".

She said: "The outcome of the investigation, which was conducted via an accelerated procedure, turned out to be negative.

"The public prosecutor then issued an immediate release order."

Dutch prosecutors said in a statement that "the man arrested earlier this week in a Hague restaurant, is not the man sought by Italian authorities".

An official told the NOS public broadcaster: "If they say 'arrest this person', we arrest that person. That's the mutual agreement we have with them."

Watch: The mafia writer - How a man wrote his way out of a life of crime

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