A man once linked with buying Norwich City Football Club is on trial for claiming to be a top lawyer and allegedly conning clients out of £1m.

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Giovanni di Stefano, 57, who moved to Britain from Italy when he was five, is accused of setting himself up as a bonafide lawyer when he had no legal qualifications and was not registered to work as a lawyer in Italy or the UK.

The alleged fraudster made headlines in Norfolk in 2001 when he snapped up a six per cent share in the Canaries and attempted a hostile takeover to get his son installed as a director.

But today the man nicknamed ‘The Devil’s Advocate’ because of the type of legal cases he would take on was on trial at Southwark Crown Court charged with 25 counts, including deception, fraud and money laundering.

The court heard he used the Italian word “avvocato” on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give clients - and the judiciary - the impression he was an advocate.

But, in fact, he was telling “deliberate lies” and was “not a qualified lawyer at all”, the prosecution said.

Prosecutor David Aaronberg QC told the jury as he opened the case: “In a sentence, he is charged with various offences of deception, fraud, money laundering and forgery, and the prosecution say he committed those offences between 2004 and 2012.”

The lawyer told the panel of eight women and four men that di Stefano developed “something of a reputation” among convicted criminals, lawyers, the media and the wider community.

He said: “He was a man who was willing to provide legal services to clients whose cases others considered unwinnable or too difficult to defend.

“He was willing to argue for unpopular causes. Somewhere along the way over the years, he acquired the soubriquet, or nickname, ‘The Devil’s Advocate’.”

He showed the jury pictures of business cards and headed note paper in which di Stefano calls himself an “avvocato” and said he was attempting to convey “a clear impression to anyone who is reading these documents that he is writing as an ‘avvocato’, or advocate”.

He said: “The prosecution’s case is, that by doing this, he was giving a clear indication - which was false - that he was a qualified lawyer.

Mr Aaronberg told the jury there ten victims, or sets of victims.

He said: “Between them, between June 2004 and December 2011, they lost a little under £1 million in sterling - £929,828.”

Di Stefano, of Canterbury in Kent, denies 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.

Di Stefano denies 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.

The trial continues.

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