Court hears Italian "Devil's Advocate" was fake lawyer

LONDON Tue Jan 29, 2013 5:52pm GMT

Lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London January 29, 2013. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano arrives at Southwark Crown Court in London January 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett

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LONDON (Reuters) - An Italian man known as the "Devil's Advocate" went on trial in London on Tuesday accused of posing as a lawyer to defraud 10 sets of victims of a total of almost one million pounds.

Giovanni Di Stefano, 57, denies 25 offences of deception, fraud, money laundering and forgery allegedly committed between 2004 and 2012.

Lawyer David Aaronberg, opening the case for the prosecution at Southwark Crown Court, said Di Stefano had no legal qualifications but had built a reputation as a lawyer willing to take on cases considered unwinnable or too difficult to defend.

"Somewhere along the way, over the years, he acquired the soubriquet, or nickname, of 'Devil's Advocate' and he became more and more well-known," Aaronberg said.

The prosecutor said Di Stefano's name had been linked to many newsworthy cases all over the world, and that he had worked in Iraq and in Serbia, but he gave no details.

Under British law, media reports about the trial cannot give any background details not given to the jury in open court.

The court heard that some of the offences alleged in the indictment arose because Paul Bush, a man convicted of murder and kidnapping, saw a 2004 BBC documentary "Notorious: Devil's Advocate" on Di Stefano in prison.

He asked his partner, Paula Gregory-Dade, to obtain Di Stefano's services to launch an appeal against his convictions.

Aaronberg described how Di Stefano persuaded Gregory-Dade and others connected to Bush to pay some 120,000 pounds in legal fees and for a supposed bail security for Bush.

The court also heard that in 2003, when asked by a British judge to provide proof of his qualifications, Di Stefano had said he could not as there had been an earthquake in Campobasso, his native province, which had destroyed all the public records.

Aaronberg said this was a lie and the records were intact.

He said Di Stefano's defence against the charges would be that he "honestly believed himself entitled to describe himself as a qualified lawyer".

The trial continues on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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