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A date with the devil's advocate

Fast-talking lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano talks about hanging out with Saddam and explains why he tried to buy an Irish soccer club.

Jason O'Toole, 26 Nov 2007



Giovanni Di Stefano’s nickname “The Devil’s Advocate” is entirely apt. He has represented many notorious clients, including Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Dr Harold Shipman, John Palmer, Nicholas van Hoogstraten, Ronald Biggs and Jeremy Bamber.

But in Ireland, Di Stefano is best known for representing John Gilligan, Paddy ‘Dutchy’ Holland, Brian Meehan, Paul Ward, Marlo Hyland, and the recently murdered John Daly.

Di Stefano runs his international law practice, Studio Legale Internazionale, from an office in Rome. At the moment, the 52-year-old lawyer is representing ‘Chemical’ Ali Hassan Abd al-Majid al-Tikri in Iraq and Ian Strachan, the alleged blackmailer of a minor royal family member in the UK. He is, you might say, a busy man, with over 100 cases pending. He lives life at a frantic pace. Five minutes after our interview ends, Di Stefano jumps into his BMW and dashes to the airport, where a private plane is waiting to jet him off to Iraq for a meeting with Chemical Ali.

Di Stefano made headlines earlier this year when he attempted to prosecute, under the Geneva Conventions Act, the judge who sentenced Saddam Hussein to death. “He ran away from England, boy, like a rabbit on a promise. You can quote me on that,” he says, as we sip wine in his lavish apartment in the centre of Rome. “It is definitely an offence under the Geneva Convention Act, which clearly states you are entitled to a fair trial. Saddam didn’t get a fair trial. So therefore, if a judge gives a sentence of death based upon an unfair trial, you are in violation of the Geneva Conventions Act. I can prosecute. I got leave off the AG and someone advised him to fuck off. He’s in Kurdistan. Bastard!”

A man who is almost as fond of profanities as Charlie Haughey, Di Stefano has views that many will see as repugnant – particularly those on immigration. But that doesn’t bother him in the slightest. If there is one thing you can say for him, it is that he is extremely forthright and doesn’t give a monkey’s what anyone thinks of him.

His passions are football and music. He purchased the Serbian second division club FK Oblilic in partnership with the notorious Serbian paramilitary leader, Zeljko Raznatovic (Arkan), a man he unashamedly regarded as a friend. During their first two seasons in charge, they managed to get the team into the first division and even won a place in the UEFA Cup. After Arkan’s death, Di Stefano left Serbia and became director of Dundee FC. He is no longer involved in football, although two years ago he unsuccessfully attempted to purchase Shelbourne FC.

On the music front, during his teens, Di Stefano wrote a number of hit singles in Italy. More recently, he produced and orchestrated an album, entitled Seriously Single, by JustCarmen. The album includes duets with Jonathan King (yes, another client), who does a rendition of his ‘Everyone’s Gone To The Moon’, and even Elvis Presley is resurrected for versions of ‘It’s Impossible’ and ‘You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me’. Meanwhile, the Irish ballad group, The Bachelors, Al Martino, Mr Boogie Woogie, and Di Stefano himself, all appear on various different tracks.

As you can probably gather from this brief biography, Di Stefano is a very colourful character indeed.

JASON O’TOOLE: How did you become a lawyer for so many of the infamous?

GIOVANNI DI STEFANO: Where do you start? You start at the beginning – but is there a beginning here? Sometimes I feel I was born not in the beginning, but in the middle already! It all started with Milosevic, Arkan, then Palmer and van Hoogstraten, and then there was a documentary on me by the BBC, and then the Irish mob. But what really launched me, more than anything else, was winning the case of John Palmer, ‘Goldfinger’, in 2003. That was – without doubt – an un-winnable case. But because a confiscation notice was not properly written in its formal, that document became invalid. That effectively lost the Crown £47million and got his life back because, otherwise, Palmer would still be in jail – and he would die in prison.


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