'Swindler' di Stefano at centre of Shels shocker
Published 21/04/2006 | 00:11
SHOULD Giovanni di Stefano be allowed to take control of Ireland's top football club? That was the question being asked in Irish football circles last night after it emerged that the controversial Anglo-Italian lawyer wants to buy Shelbourne Football Club.
SHOULD Giovanni di Stefano be allowed to take control of Ireland'stop football club?
That was the question being asked in Irish football circles last night after it emerged that the controversial Anglo-Italian lawyer wants to buy Shelbourne Football Club.
It's no secret that Shelbourne owner Ollie Byrne is ready to sell all or part of his 99 per cent shareholding in the club if he finds somebody who has deep pockets and the ambition to drive the club forward.
Byrne, who is due to meet di Stefano on Sunday, said last night that, although he knew very little about the London-based lawyer, he had accepted the invitation to meet him out of courtesy.
"We will approach the meeting with open minds and listen to what he has to say. Our primary and over-riding concern is to secure the future of Shelbourne FC. We will do nothing to jeopardise that," said Byrne.
Di Stefano has already attracted headlines for representing some of the most notorious people in the world including Sadaam Hussain, Slobodan Milosevic, serial killer Harold Shipman and Irish criminals John Gilligan and 'Dutchy' Holland. He also claims to have met other notorious household names, including Al Quaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, Mafia godfather John Gotti, former Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini and Yasser Arafat.
Di Stefano's bid to take over Shelbourne is not his first foray into the world of football - he failed with bids to buy his way into Dundee in Scotland and English clubs Norwich City and Northampton Town.
He first tried to buy Dundee in 1999. His interest in the Scottish club was apparently instigated by his son, who supported the club while attending the elite school Gordonstoun. They later sued di Stefano for alleged non-payment of his son's fees and he accused them of racism.
Dundee's owners initially resisted his overtures, stating that his involvement was "unacceptable" after fans protested. However, with the club continuing to suffer losses, di Stefano eventually became an associate director but resigned in January 2004.
During his time at Dundee, the Scottish club made several big signings, including Fabrizo Ravenelli.
The 50-year-old's efforts buy into Northampton Town failed after the entire board threatened to resign in protest, while Norwich president Delia Smith dismissed his bid to become involved there as "an absolute joke."
Earlier, di Stefano had a successful involvement with Serbian side Obilic, who went from playing in the Serbian second division to the Champions League in two seasons. He owned the club along with the notorious Serbian warlord Arkan, who made him an honorary general in his militia, The Tigers, and Obilic's success was tainted by accusations of violent intimidation and match-fixing - accusations which di Stefano denies.
Di Stefano was convicted for his involvement in a £25m fraud in March 1986 following a 78-day trial at London's Old Bailey and was convicted at the same time for acquiring huge numbers of video tapes by deception.
The Italian, who moved to England from Cambasso when he was five, was also disqualified from being a company director and banned from "the promotion, formation or management" of a company for a period of 10 years. In sentencing him to five years in prison, Judge Anthony Lewisohn concluded that di Stefano is "one of nature's fraudsters . . . a swindler without scruple or conscience."
He lost an appeal in 1987 but claims he won a second appeal in 1988 and was released from prison.
Di Stefano later stood trial on a fraud charge involving a hotel company called Sandhust Assets but the charges were subsequently dropped because of the amount of time that had elapsed since the alleged offence and he won compensation from the British government.
Shelbourne's would-be owner has been deported from the USA and banned from entering New Zealand as a prohibited immigrant. He had travelled to America in an attempt to buy the MGM film studio, a bid described in Variety newspaper by one executive of the film company as the stuff of "Alice in Wonderland."
MGM later won damages from di Stefano, who later claimed to have made a killing when Credit Lyonnais bank demanded that his consortium pay back a vast loan of £1.27bn. He explained that he negotiated a settlement deal that "made me a considerable amount of money."
Di Stefano was also involved in Telecom Italia's ?300m bid to buy Telekom Serbia - a deal which led to one of the biggest political scandals in Italian history.
Question marks surround his qualifications as an Italian lawyer abound while his claims that he received a doctorate from Cambridge University in 1981 have proved to be unfounded. He also claims to be a fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Microscopical Society.
When he got involved with Dundee, di Stefano said he wanted to make them a top Champions League club - the same promise he is making for Shelbourne. Dundee currently lie seventh in the ten-team Scottish first division having been relegated last season.
If he takes over Shelbourne, or purchases a sizeable shareholding, the FAI's club licensing committee must be informed and they will consider if it is an acceptable agreement.