IT was a Saturday evening and Pavarotti's restaurant on Union Terrace in the centre of Aberdeen was packed full of customers, as usual. In a corner of the room stood the smartly dressed figure of Antonio La Torre, the co-owner, surveying the bustling scene and chatting chirpily to his staff and customers who were dining by candlelight.

Since emigrating to the city in the 1980s, La Torre had gained a reputation as a man who ran a business that brought an authentic slice of Italy to the oil-rich town. Events in an Edinburgh court last week cast doubt on his persona as hard-working businessman, however, and suggested that La Torre may have brought more of his homeland with him to Scotland than his diners knew.

At an extradition hearing in Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Tuesday, Sheriff Kenneth MacIver ruled that La Torre should be able to be sent to Italy to face allegations of criminality. And these were no ordinary crimes.

Among the details of an Italian police inquiry disclosed in the court was the sensational accusation that the city of Aberdeen had effectively been a criminal base for the Camorra, the Neapolitan version of the feared Italian Mafia.

What's more, La Torre was no bitpart player. Instead, the investigators claimed, the 49-year-old father-ofthree was "the undisputed head" of a crime clan responsible for a wave of extortion, robbery, violence and fraud in his native Italy.

Over a number of years, as part of an investigation by Italy's anti-mafia authorities into the Camorra, specialist police units kept phone taps on La Torre, listening in to conversations between Aberdeen and Italy. As well as discussions about involvement in South American drug deals and other criminal matters, investigators claim there was talk of arrangements for large sums of money to be brought to Scotland from Italy and invested in the booming northeast.

In court last week, a host of other crimes were alleged, considered so serious by the Italian government that they demanded La Torre's return to the country.

A letter read out described how the Italian police believed that while La Torre was carving out a living as a respectable restaurateur and food importer in Scotland, he was simultaneously controlling a crime syndicate, "directing its activities" and "programming numerous acts of extortion".

In all, the extradition request from the Italian ministry for justice listed 20 "elements of a criminal course of conduct".

The alleged crimes - which date back to 1998 - include being a member of the Camorra, personal violence, extortion, robbery, and the production of counterfeit money and fake identification papers.

La Torre was also accused of crimes said to have been carried out between October and November 2001 in Italy, including "various violent and threatening activities along with others . . . to obtain payment of bribes from local tradesmen in relation to catering services".

At the end of the hearing, Sheriff MacIver ruled there should be no bar to La Torre's extradition, although Scottish ministers now have the final say. Last night, the Italian's lawyers vowed that La Torre - who has come to be known as "the don on the Don" - would fight the decision, but he must do so from the confines of the remand wing of Edinburgh Prison.

The thought of a crime boss controlling a feared Camorra family hundreds of miles away from a modest flat in the city's Rosemount area tickles many in Aberdeen.

Outwardly, there was nothing to suggest that La Torre could possibly be the major player in the Italian underworld that the country's investigators believe he is.

Living with his Scottish wife, Gillian Fraser, whom he married in 1982, and his three children in a flat above a butcher's shop, La Torre was known in the area but kept himself to himself.

Even among the businessmen who knew him, he came across as nothing more than a quietly spoken restaurateur and importer. Last week, several in the city's business community would not speak about La Torre. Others would only do so anonymously. Perhaps the revelations that emerged from the Edinburgh court hearing had got them wondering that if they did speak out they would be waking up with a horse's head alongside them in bed.

One Aberdeen businessman who knew La Torre, and who asked not to be named, said: "He didn't come across as roguish at all. We would have a coffee together. You could not envision him as being the kind of person that's being described in the newspapers. He was quite quiet and shy."

Another said: "I wouldn't have said a bad word against him. He was always very polite and professional.

He came over as a very pleasant guy."

Yet, according to the Italian police, La Torre was an active and major part of a notorious crime family that operate around Naples and the surrounding Campania area.

Their stronghold, the rundown town of Mondragone 80 miles up the coast from Naples, provided the base for a life of criminality for the family, including gun-running, drug trafficking, racketeering, prostitution and corruption of public sector contracts.

The clan was founded by Francesco Tiberio La Torre, whose wife Paolina gave birth to Antonio in 1956 and Augusto three years later.

As the brothers grew up, intelligence reports compiled by the Italian police noted Antonio and Augusto's growing influence in the family business. By the age of 26, Antonio was heavily involved. A report on the clan's activities by the local police in Mondragone in 1982 describes him as a "leading member of the Camorra clan".

In 1984 he was first charged with mafia association. That year, however, a marathon cat and mouse game began with La Torre and the Italian authorities which is still ongoing today. Back in 1984, by the time the case came to be processed he was already in Scotland and had married Fraser.

With the Italian crime of "Mafia Association" not recognised by the UK, La Torre was safe from extradition. But it was not long before he was again featuring in the police investigations into the Camorra.

By the early 1990s the Neapolitan authorities had become so concerned about the scale of the La Torre clan activities around their Mondragone stronghold and beyond that another purge was launched against them, which included covert surveillance and phone taps.

Investigators say that despite being in Scotland, Antonio again came to their attention. This time, the police gathered evidence that he was the connecting link between his brother Augusto and known criminals in South America in undertaking large-scale drug trafficking.

A swoop on the gang led to Augusto being jailed but, yet again, Antonio was safe as long as he remained in the UK. In 1996 he took a chance and left Scotland, flying to Amsterdam. At Schiphol airport, he was immediately arrested and deported to Italy. There, he was sentenced to two years for firearms offences and mafia association, but served half his sentence and was released. Once more he was back in Scotland out of the reach of the Italian police with his wife in Aberdeen.

By now it was 2003 and Antonio La Torre was running two restaurants in the city - Pavarotti's and the Sorrento, on Bridge Street. A police operation again targeted the La Torres in Mondragone. As part of the swoop, 25 people were picked up - among them Antonio's sister, Esterina, and sisterin-law Anna Maria Giarra. The initial accusations against those arrested included mafia association, trafficking counterfeit money and money-laundering at home and abroad.

Once more, Scotland featured in the police's intelligence reports.

Naples police believed the La Torre criminal clan was developing a strategy to use its Scottish connections to launder profits from mafia racketeering. Antonio and another man - Michele Siciliano, a businessman who co-owned Pavarotti's - were among those accused in a report published that year by Italian prosecutors.

The Italian authorities claimed that phone taps had thrown up conversations between Scotland and Italy arranging for large sums of money to be invested in businesses in Aberdeen. Although La Torre has always denied any criminality, the police believe otherwise.

Last year, with La Torre still in Scotland, he was sentenced to 13 years in jail after being convicted in his absence in Italy. To the Italian police, the court hearing against La Torre last week represented the latest round in a seemingly never-ending battle against the Camorra families who dominate the Campania area around Naples.

According to informed sources, there is no doubting the importance of the La Torre clan within the Camorra. "The La Torre family ran Camorra operations just to the north of Naples, " said a source, "involved in gunrunning, drugs, corrupting public sector contracts and protection rackets.

"They are what you would call an old-fashioned Camorra clan, in the sense that they're patriarchal.

Over the years they've extended their control over Mondragone to surrounding areas, specialising in heroin, cocaine and arms deals."

Like in many of Italy's poorer regions, organised crime is just a feature of normal life around Naples.

But according to Joe Farrell, a professor of Italian Studies at Strathclyde University, who has studied organised crime in Italy, the Camorra should not be confused with the Mafia.

"The Mafia operate from Sicily, " he said, "while the Camorra are based around Naples and the region around it, called Campania. The Camorra is a completely separate organisation, although it does operate in similar ways to the Mafia.

The difference is that the Camorra has remained a local organisation while the Sicilian Mafia has internationalised itself. You have a whole variety of competing gangs and families and they operate in the same sort of way: protection money, prostitution.

Above all, they are very closely involved with local politicians."

Farrell added: "These are not noble or gallant organisations. These are organisations that are based on the principle of self-interest, and the desire for profit. They have corrupted Naples over a very long time, because of their involvement with politicians at the local and the national level."

DrTom Behan, whose 2002 book, See Naples and Die, is the only book written in English about the Camorra, said: "The Camorra is older than the Mafia, it has more members and is more popular among the ordinary people than the Mafia because it provides employment. All the official statistics show that it's got more money. But there's no doubt about the La Torre family, they have been a bad lot."

In Scotland over the last two decades, La Torre went from a successful restaurateur to managing director of a firm which supplies imported Italian food to restaurants across Scotland. Last week in the Scottish courts, the decision to extradite Antonio La Torre was placed in the hands of Scottish ministers. After checking there are no bars to his extradition, ministers must order him to be returned to Italy.

At the family home in Rosemount Place, Gillian Fraser was remaining silent about the latest developments.

When asked about the case, she would only say: "I have no comment to make. I have nothing to say".

La Torre's lawyer, Tom Bannigan, meanwhile, has vowed to fight any decision to deport his client.

Speaking after visiting La Torre in Edinburgh Prison, he said his client was "extremely disappointed" at the sheriff 's decision. He added, however, that La Torre "wishes to do everything possible to continue to resist the efforts to extradite him."

But, as the door of La Torre's cell closed again last night, it appeared that after years of hunting him, Italian investigators were at last on the brink of getting their man.