‘Devil’s advocate’ who pretended to be a lawyer is found guilty of fraud

Giovanni di Stefano claimed he had links with Bin Laden, Mugabe and Saddam

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.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn