Saddam's defender accused of falsely claiming to be solicitor

Fraud charges are being considered against an Italian lawyer acting for a series of high-profile offenders, including the killer Kenneth Noye, the timeshare conman John Palmer and the multiple murderer Jeremy Bamber.

The Crown Prosecution Service is examining the findings of an inquiry by the City of London Police's fraud squad into the millionaire lawyer, Giovanni Di Stefano. Detectives have been investigating whether Mr Di Stefano has broken the law by allegedly claiming to be a British accredited solicitor or barrister.

The police have also been examining claims by some clients of Mr Di Stefano that the legal adviser misrepresented himself - something he 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's qualifications remain a mystery to many. Questioned about his qualification, Mr Di Stefano, 50, would only say that he was an "Italian lawyer". "I have never said I'm a solicitor or barrister," he told The Independent.

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 whatsoever."

The colourful character, who is a convicted fraudster, has linked himself with a string of high-profile cases.

Most recently he appeared on American television to speak for the rights of Saddam Hussein after The Sun newspaper published a picture of the former dictator in his underpants in prison.

The current inquiry has also examined a dispute 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 inquiry.

He added: "Nothing surprises me with the CPS, especially with the success rate that we have with some of the high-profile cases it wouldn't be surprising at all.

"Anyone is entitled to look at what they want to look at, but if they think that there is something there let them proceed."

He said that any action against him would be "a political attack".

He added: "I am, as stated, 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 that 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 the former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's legal advisers. He has said that 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 his 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.