'Saddam's lawyer' faces fraud charges in London
An Italian known as the "devil's advocate" for representing notorious criminals including Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein appeared in court in London on Friday accused of fraud, prosecutors said.
Giovanni di Stefano, 55, was arrested in Spain last month on 18 charges, accused of obtaining large amounts of money between 2004 and 2009 by falsely claiming to be a qualified lawyer, as well as theft and money laundering.
He was granted bail at City of Westminster Magistrates' Court and the case was adjourned until April 26, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said.
Di Stefano denies the charges and vowed to prove his innocence in a trial, saying in a statement: "My plea was and remains one of absolutely not guilty and I trust a jury or a judge will endorse such at the appropriate time."
The Italian was on the legal team which defended Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator who was ousted in the 2003 US-led invasion and hanged in December 2006.
He has also helped serial killer Charles Manson and British train robber Ronnie Biggs, earning the nickname "the devil's advocate" in the press.
Di Stefano was arrested on February 14 in Palma, the capital of the Spanish island of Majorca, on a European arrest warrant.
"Mr Di Stefano is charged with 10 counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, one of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception, one of obtaining property by deception, one count of theft of a BMW car belonging to BMW Financial Services, three counts of money laundering, two counts under the Fraud Act 2006," the CPS said in a statement.
"The charges refer to events between 2004 and 2009 and the alleged deceptions include representations that he was a qualified Italian lawyer."
According to the CPS indictment, Di Stefano is charged with obtaining £120,000 ($190,000, 140,000 euros) while representing Paula Gregory-Dade, obtaining 10,000 euros by falsely representing Laurent Penchef, and deceiving Christine and Michael John Smith out of £10,000.
© 2011 AFP