The mystery of the kidnapping of ‘Benny the Italian’ in Ecuador also involves Canada

TORONTO – The disappearance of Panfilo Colonico, the Italian-Canadian kidnapped on Friday afternoon by an alleged “commando” from his restaurant in Ecuador and disappeared into thin air is a real “whodunit”. The 49-year-old man was taken by two people, armed and dressed as policemen, with machine guns in hand and with two accomplices waiting for them outside the restaurant “Il Sabore Mio” in Guayaquil, in the Province of Guayas, in Ecuador. 

The alleged kidnapping (we will see why alleged) was recorded by security cameras and the video, which shows the date of June 23 and the time of 16.32, was published on Twitter at 22.28 of the same day by the journalist Alina Manrique Cedeño of the TC broadcaster Television. The images (below) show the moment in which the man is taken inside his club, to then leave the frame and disappear into thin air.

The “theater” of what happened is precisely the elegant and refined restaurant, “Il Sabore Mio”, opened by the Colonico himself: it is one of the most renowned in the whole of Ecuador and includes a restaurant, pizzeria, bar, bakery and pastry shop, such as it can be seen in the Instagram profile “ilsaboremio“, 16,500 followers, updated until Sunday (as we write).

A very successful activity, that of Colonico (very well known in Ecuador, where they call him “Benny the Italian”: here his Instagram profile), which makes possible a kidnapping for ransom. A hypothesis, the latter, which would seem to be confirmed by an employee of the restaurant who, contacted by journalists from the Italian newspaper Il Centro, said that the bandits handed over to the Ecuadorian police a video in which the chef appears in good health while talk to her captors. “The police told us that Benny is fine and it seems that the kidnappers do not want to harm him, but are only interested in obtaining a ransom in cash” the employee told Italian journalists (the article in Il Centro: «C’è un video spedito dai banditi», attesa in Ecuador per la richiesta del riscatto).

However, the track of the settlement of accounts is also followed. Local Ecuadorian media, in fact, report that in January, Colonico was involved in a shooting that took place near a shopping center – no one was injured – which took place after a negotiation for a pick-up. No confirmation, however, seems to come from the authorities who are working on the case: mouths sealed.

But who is “Benny the Italian”?

Panfilo Colonico was born in Toronto on June 5, 1973 of Italian parents, from Sulmona (L’Aquila, Abruzzo), who had moved to Canada in search of fortune. Subsequently, however, the family had returned to Italy, to the same Sulmona that they had left a few years earlier. Panfilo grew up there, worked in the restaurant opened in the meantime by his father, “La Magnolia”, he became a Chef and he started a family. But then something happened. And he decided to return to Canada where he started working in the construction sector and then returned to the restaurant business.

In 2020 he went to Ecuador for a tourist trip, but then the first lockdown for the coronavirus pandemic took place and Colonico got stuck in Ecuador and he decided to stay there. Some time later, when the Covid-19 started to loosen its grip, he opened a restaurant, “Il Sabore Mio”. And it was an instant success.

Elegant location, quality food, many customers, television interviews: “Benny the Italian” has become a celebrity.

A success that would however be “spoiled” by some shadows: according to the Farnesina, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has been following the story since the day of the “kidnapping”, it seems that Colonico has several charges of fraud against him and that he has contracted debts. And his wife, who lives in Sulmona with their two daughters, questioned by the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, said she was “not convinced” of the truthfulness of the kidnapping. «I dissociate myself from this umpteenth staging», she commented, without adding anything else (the article in Il Messaggero: Panfilo Colonico, the chef kidnapped in Ecuador and the doubts of his ex-wife and daughters: «It’s just a staging»).

As for the Canadian authorities, contacted by the Italian-Canadian newspaper Corriere Canadese to find out if they are dealing with the case since it was a person born in Canada, they confirmed that investigations are underway. “Global Affairs Canada is aware that a Canadian has been kidnapped in Ecuador. Canadian officials are gathering further information and will provide consular assistance as required. Due to privacy considerations, no further information can be disclosed”, Jérémie Bérubé, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, wrote by e-mail.

In short, an international “mystery” involving Italy, Canada and Ecuador. Like in a movie.