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Bogus Italian lawyer Giovanni di Stefano is jailed for 14 years

image captionGiovanni di Stefano boasted of having represented notorious criminals, including Harold Shipman

A conman who duped people into thinking he was a bona fide legal professional has been jailed for 14 years.

Giovanni di Stefano was convicted on Wednesday of 25 charges, including deception, fraud and money laundering between 2001 and 2011.

Di Stefano, 57, of Canterbury, is known as the "devil's advocate" for representing high-profile criminals.

He says he worked with train robber Ronnie Biggs and Saddam Hussein's legal team.

Di Stefano, an ex-Dundee football club director, also claimed his clients included serial killer Dr Harold Shipman and Slobodan Milosevic, the late Serbian leader who died on trial for war crimes at The Hague.

Judge Alistair McCreath, the Recorder of Westminster, told Di Stefano he recognised that he did not seek out those who he defrauded - instead they came to him. But he had caused real distress - and years of misery and frustration - to many people.

The judge said: "There is more than one kind of predator. Some predators hunt down their victims, others lie in wait for them.

"Your victims in this case were all desperate people and people who, because of their desperation, were vulnerable.

"You had no regard for them nor for their anguish. Your only concern was to line your own pockets."

Di Stefano's crimes were "planned and persistent", the judge added, and some of his attempts to defend his behaviour in court amounted to "breathtaking cynicism".

On Thursday Di Stefano pleaded guilty to two further counts of fraud, including stealing £150,000 compensation that should have gone to man who had lost an arm in a car crash. A further three counts were ordered to lie on file.

No qualifications

During the trial, Southwark Crown court heard the 57-year-old had fooled clients out of millions of pounds by presenting himself as a lawyer, despite having no legal qualifications and not being registered to work as an advocate in the UK or Italy.

As part of this pretence, he used the Italian word "avvocato" on business cards, letterheads and documents to ensure his clients and the judiciary were given the impression he was a lawyer.

A jury of eight women and four men took four hours and 10 minutes to reach a verdict.

It found Di Stefano guilty of nine counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, eight counts of fraud, 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.

A 'nice guy'

During the trial, the court was told about Di Stefano's links with President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, and his "friendship" with the daughter of Slobodan Milosevic.

A BBC documentary from 2004 was also shown to the court, in which Di Stefano spoke of Iraqi leader and war criminal Saddam Hussein as a "nice guy".

During the film, he boasted of being asked to defend killers including Shipman, Jeremy Bamber, Kenneth Noye and Linda Calvey.

Di Stefano, who was born in the small Italian town of Petrella Tifernina, moved to Britain as a boy and attended school in Wollaston, in Northamptonshire.

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