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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 March, 2005, 10:58 GMT 11:58 UK
Jonathan King's 'best friend'
By Tom Geoghegan
BBC News Magazine

Giovanni Di Stefano and Jonathan King
Di Stefano believes King's name should be cleared
Lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano is dubbed the "Devil's Advocate" because he has represented some of the country's most notorious villains. Now he's hoping to get Jonathan King's sex offences quashed.

Bin Laden sits with Biggs, Shipman with Saddam and Kenneth Noye is near Milosevic.

Not the dream dinner party table of a twisted mind, but a list of contacts on the website of one of the UK's most controversial lawyers.

Few legal professionals have a client list like Giovanni Di Stefano, even if Bin Laden and Saddam have yet to make his in-tray. But like so much about the 49-year-old millionaire, including his lawyer status, there is claim and counter-claim, as if to mirror the adversarial justice system he repeatedly challenges.

What can be said with certainty is he helped make legal history as part of the team which overturned the manslaughter conviction of his "idol", tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten. He hopes to repeat that success with Jonathan King, who was released from prison on Tuesday after serving half of a seven-year sentence for sexually abusing boys.

Arkan (Zeljko Raznatovic): charged with war crimes before his murder
Kenneth Noye: murder
Slobodan Milosevic: charged with genocide
John "Goldfinger" Palmer: timeshare fraud
Jeremy Bamber: murdered five
Ronald Biggs: Great Train Robber
Harold Shipman: murdered 250 (estimate)
"If you apply the law instead of interpreting it and finding a way round it, then Jonathan King will be totally exonerated," he says.

King had never even met his accusers aged under 16, says Mr Di Stefano, and the Director of Public Prosecutions had not given formal permission for the case to be taken to court. On the first point, the jury thought otherwise and believed the boys.

Finding a technical flaw in a prosecution case is trademark Di Stefano, who thinks Harold Shipman's conviction was unsafe. He says he was preparing an appeal when the doctor committed suicide.

Such is his willingness to fight the most unpopular corners, he says even Soham killer Ian Huntley has technical grounds to have his double-murder conviction quashed.

Would he have any qualms about exploiting a technicality to help Huntley walk free?

"No, I refused to take Huntley's case, not because of any moral stance, but because I didn't have the time. It's a purely professional judgement."

Hollywood deals

The nickname Devil's Advocate is a neat one, given he once said he would defend Adolf Hitler or Satan. But when put to him, he takes it as a compliment: "I've just been lucky."

Born into what he calls a peasant family in rural southern Italy, he moved to Northamptonshire in 1961, when he was aged six. He began amassing his fortune, which he says reached 450m, in his 20s when he gained millionaire status by importing videotapes from Hong Kong.

Then business deals in Hollywood multiplied his wealth, helped by an attempt to buy the studio MGM, which fell through but left him with a windfall sum.

Giovanni Di Stefano
Lawyer, political party leader, millionaire...
He went to war-torn Yugoslavia, where he befriended and advised Serbian warlord Arkan and Slobodan Milosevic. He also met Saddam Hussein three times, for business reasons, and despite no known intelligence linking al-Qaeda to Iraq, claims to have met Osama bin Laden in Baghdad.

Although he spends most of his time in the UK, with weekend visits to Rome to see his wife, he feels like an outsider, despite his impeccable London accent.

He is adamant that he's Italian, not English, and he says he doesn't want a conventional lawyer lifestyle. Being leader of a political party, The Radical Party of Great Britain, which calls for simpler government, is one way to go about it.

But he says the "pin-striped suits and speaking la-di-da" culture is not for him. And maybe this sense of exclusion drives a millionaire to defend people few others would want to. But there's also another explanation.

In 1986 Mr Di Stefano was convicted of fraud. He says this was quashed on the second appeal and a sense of injustice remains, making each victory against the system a sweet revenge.

I think my time for revenge is now over
Giovanni Di Stefano
None was more embarrassing for prosecutors than the legal mistake exposed in 2003 which allowed jailed timeshare fraudster John "Goldfinger" Palmer, advised by Mr Di Stefano, to keep his 33m profits.

"That felt bloody good, to add insult to injury. But I think my time for revenge is now over. I now recognise that despite everything Britain has done against me, they've also been extremely kind. If it weren't for a British education, I would be a housekeeper in Rome or a dustman."

Confusion surrounds his legal qualifications, which he claims originate in Italy but he refuses to say where; and his credentials were once questioned by a Court of Appeal judge.

The Law Society is unequivocal in its assessment. "He's not a solicitor and he's not a barrister," says a spokesman. "As far as we're concerned he has no legal qualifications whatsoever." However, Mr Di Stefano maintains he has Italian qualifications.

Satan's case

But the man regarded by some lawyers as the Max Clifford of the legal profession, more PR than law, has several clients who are not so high profile.

He is currently representing a single mother in pursuit of child maintenance from her son's father, and waived his usual fee.

Of course, the other cases help pay the rent - he once claimed a client paid him 3m to take his case.

But one brief eludes him. "No-one's ever asked 'Does Satan have a case? Does he have a good case?'"

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