By SCOTT MacLEOD
A globetrotting fraudster who tried to buy $59 million of Auckland property is trying to take control of a Scottish soccer club.
Giovanni "John" Di Stefano's appointment as a director of the Dundee Football Club could lead to its survival or ruin, posing a dilemma for administrators who are agonising over his murky past.
Di Stefano and Kawerau-born wife Tanja swept into Auckland in May 1990 and made multi-million-dollar bids for the Royal Oak shopping mall, Takapuna Beach Motel, Park Lane Motor Inn and a beachfront Mairangi Bay home.
He also investigated buying a share in TV3.
Di Stefano was barred from New Zealand when his fingerprints confirmed he had been jailed in Britain for frauds worth $75 million.
The Auckland property deals folded.
Now, the 48-year-old Italian's apparent wealth has led officials at the Dundee club to accept him as a director.
Insiders say the 110-year-old club will go bust without Di Stefano's cash. He is thought to be trying to buy a majority share in the club.
The Scotland on Sunday newspaper said the Scottish Football Association would refuse to ratify the directorship because Di Stefano was "not a fit and proper person".
His high profile at Dundee has led British journalists to uncover a string of shady dealings, including the New Zealand link.
Di Stefano has responded with denials.
Scotland on Sunday said: "Di Stefano and his money may be given the red-carpet treatment at Dundee, but he is not so welcome in several other parts of the world. He has been banned from entering New Zealand as a prohibited immigrant."
Since leaving New Zealand, Di Stefano has compiled a rogues gallery of friendships that include some of the world's least-savoury characters.
He shifted to Serbia, where he befriended mass-killer Arkan the Butcher and former president Slobodan Milosevic.
He has also claimed friendship with Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
In 1997 he was involved in the Italian takeover of a Serbian phone company - a deal which has caused a political scandal in Italy.
During the past five years he has operated as a lawyer or legal adviser in Britain and Europe, despite doubts over his qualifications.
He told the Guardian newspaper he had met Osama bin Laden ("he had a handshake like a priest") and Saddam Hussein ("an extremely logical and hard-working man").
When details of his dodgy past surfaced in New Zealand in 1990, Di Stefano told the Herald the allegations were "absolutely ridiculous".
But fingerprints proved otherwise and he was packed off to Honolulu on June 10, 1990.
The Dundee club is at least $30 million in debt, and Di Stefano has boasted of having $75 million to invest.
The Football Association will decide on his directorship within a month.
The Di Stefano file:
1986, UK: Jailed for five years, $75 million fraud.
1990, NZ: Barred from entry because of British fraud.
1992, US: Deported after trying to buy MGM film studio.
1997, Europe: Involved in $1 billion takeover by Telecom Italia of Telekom Serbia.
1999, Italy/UK: First bid to buy Dundee club, arrested by Italian police, extradited to UK.
2001, UK: Hotel company fraud charges dropped.
2002, UK: Barred from visiting swindler John "Goldfinger" Palmer in jail because of doubts over De Stefano's claim to be a legal advocate.