JIM CUSACK THE British-Italian 'lawyer' who claims to be representing John Gilligan and Patrick 'Dutchy' Holland and that he will get them out of prison is a convicted fraudster with no legal qualifications to allow him to practise law in Britain or Ireland.
Giovanni di Stefano claimed last week he was helping to get Holland moved from Portlaoise high-security prison to the less-secure St Patrick's Training Unit.
He also claimed he would get both Holland and Gilligan freed as a result of reviewing their cases. However, di Stefano cannot represent the two men in court. He also has had no contact with the Department of Justice or Prison Service about Holland's alleged move to St Patrick's.
And the Minister for Justice, Michael McDowell, last week confirmed that Holland would serve out the rest of his prison term in Portlaoise. Patrick Holland's release date is next April and a senior prison source said yesterday: "When he walks out of prison, itwill be through the gate at Portlaoise."
While a number of newspapers and broadcasting stations carried stories last week and di Stefano issued a statement through the Press Association about Holland's alleged move, few carried reports about de Stefano's criminal past.
He was convicted of fraud and sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 1986 in London under the name John di Stefano. He served three years. Since then, de Stefano has claimed his conviction was overturned but last year the Guardian newspaper's crime correspondent, Rosie Cowan, obtained a copy of the Supreme Court decision of January 27, 1987, on his appeal, which three judges dismissed as groundless.
In his judgment after di Stefano's conviction, the trial judge described him as "one of nature's swindlers, swindling without scruple of conscience" and someone who was "motivated by personal greed and pretension".
In August 1990, the UK Law Society's Solicitor's Disciplinary Tribunal that di Stefano could not be employed as a clerk by any solicitor's practice because of his criminal record. The Law Society also said it was unable to find any evidence to support di Stefano's claim to be an Italian "avvocato" which, he claimed, entitled him to work as a lawyer in Britain. The Italian legal regulatory body has also said Stefano is not enrolled on lists to practise law there.
Di Stefano threatened to sue the Guardian and Ms Cowan after her revelations. However, the newspaper's legal department was able to confirm last week that though it received some correspondence from de Stefano immediately after publication, it heard nothing more for about a year. Di Stefano claims to be pursuing the Guardian and Scotland on Sunday, which also ran stories about him in the Italian courts.
Stefano has a long history of allegedly representing notorious criminals and war criminals. He even claims to have represented Saddam Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic. He has also been involved in allegedly lodging appeals on behalf of the London gangster Kenneth Noye, serving life imprisonment for killing a man in a road-rage incident.
Di Stefano was an associate of the notorious Serbian warlord Zeljko 'Arkan' Raznatovic who was gunned down in Belgrade before he could be prosecuted at the International Court in the Hague for ordering mass murders of Bosnian civilians.
Stefano also claimed to be representing Harold Shipman, the GP who murdered over 100 of his patients, though that claim was made after Shipman had committed suicide in prison. The law firm that represented Shipman later denied that di Stefano had acted for its client.
Sources in the Prison Service here say it is unclear why or how Holland and Gilligan made contact with di Stefano but believed they saw him on TV and decided to get him involved with their appeals.
Di Stefano's claims about his associations with some of the world's most notorious criminal characters is believed to have appealed to Gilligan and Holland's warped sense of humour.
Di Stefano has apparently been acquainting himself with their cases and was able to quote from files last week. In one interview he made groundless allegations about Veronica Guerin which were hurtful to her family and friends.