Chequered career of blackmail case 'devil's advocate'

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The Independent Online

Giovanni di Stefano, the man defending a suspect at the centre of the royal sex and drugs blackmail scandal, is no stranger to controversy and regularly makes headlines himself.

Mr di Stefano, who claims to be the legal representative of the Scottish businessman Ian Strachan, has been dubbed the "devil's advocate". Mr Strachan, a millionaire socialite, faces allegations that he attempted to blackmail a member of the Royal Family by threatening to reveal videotape footage of a palace aide snorting cocaine, who claimed on the tape that the royal had performed a sex act on him.

His legal adviser, Mr di Stefano, who himself has a 1986 conviction for fraud, claims to have defended clients including Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic and Harold Shipman, although Shipman's family disputed this. Other "clients" include the convicted paedophiles Gary Glitter and Jonathan King, multiple murderer Jeremy Bamber, the Great Train robber Ronald Biggs and Kenneth Noye, the convicted road-rage killer and Brinks Mat robber.

He also claims to act for Tariq Aziz, the former deputy prime minister of Iraq, and that he has met Osama bin Laden. Mr di Stefano, who says he would represent the Devil if asked, says he began his working life as a waiter at the Savoy hotel in London. In the Eighties, he started importing cheap videos from Hong Kong and made a small fortune. He was a business partner of the unlamented Serbian mafioso and war criminal Arkan, assassinated in the lobby of Belgrade's Intercontinental hotel in 2000. Mr di Stefano remembers him as "a lovely man".

Italian-born but raised in Britain, he now claims to be an avvocato, qualified in Italy with the right to work in the EU. A website for his firm in Rome advertises his services as a specialist in aviation, bankruptcy, civil rights, corporate law and criminal law. Mr di Stefano has also attempted takeovers of several British football clubs including Dundee and Northampton Town.

He is no stranger to police inquiries. Jailing him for five years in 1986, the trial judge described him as "one of nature's fraudsters... a swindler without scruple or conscience".