An eccentric self-styled lawyer who claimed to defend clients including Saddam Hussein, Gary Glitter and the Great Train Robber Ronald Biggs has been found guilty of deception after it emerged that he had no legal qualifications.
Giovanni di Stefano, who earned the moniker “the Devil’s Advocate” for taking on unwinnable cases, was convicted on 25 charges at Southwark Crown Court. They included deception, fraud and money laundering over a decade in which he earned a reputation acting for notorious criminals.
During the trial, the court was told about the 57-year-old’s claimed links with the President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, and Osama Bin Laden as well as his “friendship” with the daughter of Slobodan Milosevic.
The court heard how he deceived clients out of millions of pounds by presenting himself as a lawyer and using the Italian word avvocato on business cards and documents, despite having no legal qualifications or being registered to work as an advocate in the UK or Italy.
David Aaronberg QC told the jury that Di Stefano developed “something of a reputation” among convicted criminals, lawyers and the media. “It was this that has gained him the fame, or the notoriety, that he enjoys,” he said, adding, in an understatement: “He was willing to argue for unpopular causes.”
The jury of eight women and four men took just over four hours to reach their decision, finding him guilty of nine counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, eight counts of fraud, and three counts of acquiring criminal property, two counts of using a false instrument, one count of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception, one count of obtaining property by deception and one count of using criminal property.
It brought an end to a colourful career that saw him rub shoulders with some of the most unsavoury criminals in the world.
Di Stefano, born in the small Italian town of Petrella Tifernina, moved to Britain as a boy and attended school in Wollaston, Northamptonshire. However, he found himself behind bars during the 1970s after going on a spending spree with a credit card stolen from his father.
He said at his trial that he felt “aggrieved” and “hard done by” after he was imprisoned for longer than his older co-defendant owing to an “incompetent barrister” who, he claimed, failed to advise him properly.
He pursued his desire to enter the legal profession despite a further conviction in 1984 when he was found guilty of conspiracy charges at the Old Bailey. Jailing him for five years in 1986, the judge described him as “one of nature’s fraudsters... a swindler without scruple or conscience”.
A BBC documentary from 2004 was also shown to the court, in which di Stefano spoke of the former Iraqi president and war criminal Saddam Hussein as a “nice guy”. The BBC branded him a lawyer whose client list “read like a Who’s Who of the world’s most notorious figures”.
He will be sentenced tomorrow morning.