'Lawyer' under British scrutiny

By Jason Bennetto

A globe-trotting Italian and convicted fraudster who was chased from New Zealand in 1990 is facing the prospect of further fraud charges in Britain.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is examining the findings of an inquiry by the City of London Police's fraud squad into high-profile controversial "legal adviser" Giovanni Di Stefano.

He acts for several infamous offenders, including multiple murderer Jeremy Bamber, and claims to be Saddam Hussein's legal counsel.

Detectives have been investigating whether Mr Di Stefano has broken the law by claiming to be a British accredited solicitor or barrister.

Police have also been examining claims by Mr Di Stefano's clients that he misrepresented himself - something the multimillionaire strongly denies.

It is a criminal offence, under the Solicitors Act 1974, to describe yourself as a solicitor if you are not properly qualified and on the roll of solicitors.

Mr Di Stefano came to Auckland in 1990 with his then-wife Tanja, who was born in Kawerau, and made several multimillion-dollar bids on property.

He aroused suspicion at the Serious Fraud Office.

When it was revealed Mr Di Stefano had been convicted of fraud in 1986, he was listed as a prohibited immigrant and sent packing.

His qualifications remain a mystery to many. Questioned about them, Mr Di Stefano, 50, would say only that he was an "Italian lawyer".

"I have never said I'm a solicitor or barrister," he said.

In Britain he has said that he only acts as a legal representative for his clients - a title anyone without any qualifications can use.

A spokesman for the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, said: "We have no evidence that he has any legal status".

The colourful character has linked himself with many high-profile cases.

Most recently he appeared on United States television to speak out for the rights of Saddam Hussein after the Sun published a picture of the dictator in his underpants in prison. The inquiry has also examined a row that occurred last year involving Mr Di Stefano at the Court of Appeal. In the case, Lord Justice Rose, vice-president of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, demanded to know what right Mr Di Stefano had to sign documents for the appeal of John "Goldfinger" Palmer, the Tenerife timeshare fraudster.

When he was told that Mr Di Stefano was an Italian avvocato, the judge asked: "When and where did he become an Italian avvocato?"

Mr Di Stefano confirmed to the Independent that he had been in correspondence with the police in connection with the police inquiry.

"Nothing surprises me with the CPS, especially with the success rate we have with some of the high-profile cases."

He said that any action against him would be "a political attack". He added: "I am well aware the CPS and police and the Government would like me to simply go away, but unfortunately until justice is done to many cases that have been brought to my attention, I simply will not."

A spokesman for the City of London Police said: "We are not prepared to confirm or deny whether we have an investigation at this stage".

Other clients Mr Di Stefano has claimed to represent include the mass murderer Harold Shipman - despite the legal firm appointed to handle Shipman's defence insisting he had no connection with their case.

Another is the Serbian warlord Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic, a friend who made him an honorary general in his militia before dying in a hail of gunfire in a Belgrade hotel.

Mr Di Stefano has also claimed he was one of former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's legal advisers. He also said he met Osama bin Laden in Baghdad in 1998. "He had a handshake like a woman. He had a soft voice. He spoke like a priest."

In 2003 Mr Di Stefano was involved in the controversial property tycoon Nicholas Van Hoogstraten's successful appeal against conviction for the manslaughter of a business rival in 1999.

Mr Di Stefano was convicted of fraud at the Old Bailey in 1986 and jailed.

- INDEPENDENT

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf05 at 26 Dec 2014 22:30:23 Processing Time: 1638ms