Investigations pile more pressure on Dundee's benefactor

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IT MAY be the biggest dilemma concerning an individual in a Scottish boardroom since Jim McLean of Dundee United asked to be allowed back in the fold after swinging more than a handbag at a BBC reporter.

Last week Giovanni Di Stefano proved that he does have money to invest in Dundee FC - 200,000 in cash in a fortnight, said a Dens Park source.

The trouble is that the controversial Anglo-Italian businessman is now the sole hope for Dundee’s survival, and has still many questions to answer.

Last Monday, despite Di Stefano’s claims to the contrary, the General Purposes Committee of the SFA refused to rubber-stamp his nomination as a director of Dundee and asked him for information about his past as a convicted fraudster. The committee were effectively questioning whether he was a "fit and proper person" to be a director under Article 10 of their rules.

Di Stefano says he will fight the SFA in court if necessary - as in the Craig Levein case, he will have to do so as an individual as Dundee FC has signed up to the SFA’s code which says no club can sue them.

If Di Stefano is no longer in a position to invest in Dundee there is little doubt the club will close. Going into administration is not an answer, say club sources: the debts are too large, and the Inland Revenue showed last week that they will pursue the Dens Park club to closing point if necessary. Only Di Stefano’s cash handout saved the club from going under this week.

Di Stefano’s continued ability to earn substantial legal fees is therefore key to the club’s future. However, he is the subject of two inquiries - including a police investigation - into his claims to be a qualified lawyer.

Police sources in London confirmed last night that inquiries centring on his claim to be an Italian ‘avvocato’, are ongoing.

"I can confirm that there is an investigation into the activities of Giovanni Di Stefano," said a police source in London last night. "We cannot say any more than that."

The police inquiry into his legal activities is separate from that of the Law Society of England and Wales, which has been secretly investigating him for months.

Geoffrey Negus of the Law Society confirmed that Di Stefano has not given satisfactory evidence to the Society of his entitlement to practise law.

"This case is unique and we have never had an inquiry like this," said Negus. "If he really is an Italian avvocato, he should have had no difficulty in providing us with the documentation that we have requested."

The news comes at the end of a week in which Dundee FC faced the threat of a petition for liquidation by the Inland Revenue over a disputed tax bill of 70,000. The Dens Park club then fell out with Dundee United over 80,000 in gate receipts which United claimed had not been paid.

That dispute arose largely because both clubs - and other SPL clubs - are facing difficulties due to a ‘get tough’ approach by the Halifax Bank of Scotland, sponsors of the SPL and chief creditors to most of those clubs.

"The banks have put the squeeze on us," said a source at one of the Tayside clubs. HBOS refused to comment.

What is now clear is that the future of Dundee FC is inextricably linked to the fortunes of Di Stefano. There is no doubt, for instance, that Di Stefano wrote a personal cheque to clear Dundee’s tax debt and club sources say he has put 200,000 in cash into Dundee FC in the past fortnight. If he turns off the financial tap as a result of being forced to stop acting as a lawyer, Dundee - whose auditors recently declared them technically insolvent - would face closure, since Peter and Jimmy Marr, who invested millions into the Dens club have made it clear they have no more to invest.

Di Stefano, who claims to be a multi-millionaire, works in conjunction with a solicitor’s firm in England, but his Rome-based practice is called Studio Legale Internazionale. The Ordine Degli Avvocati in Rome, the office responsible for supervising qualified lawyers in the Italian capital, last week confirmed that he is not registered as an avvocato with them.

Last month, Scotland on Sunday revealed that Giovanni Di Stefano is a convicted fraudster who has lied about his criminal past and was convicted of serious offences on March 18, 1986, following a 78-day trial at the Old Bailey in London. Judge Anthony Lewisohn sentenced Di Stefano to five years’ imprisonment, adding that he was "swindler without scruple or conscience".

Di Stefano continues to claim that he was cleared on appeal of the 1986 conviction. However, the Appeal court’s findings on January 27th, 1987 suggest otherwise. Lord Justice Stephen Brown, Mr Justice Turner and Mr Kenneth Brown dismissed his appeal, saying:

"We are bound to observe that this trial, which lasted for a very long time, revealed a very deep and wide measure of fraudulent behaviour. This was a man who was undoubtedly seeking to operate financial fraud wherever he was able to induce people to succumb to representations skilfully made in the form of bogus financial documents."

After prison, Di Stefano went to work for a solicitor named John Barry Shaw. The Law Society of England and Wales confirmed last night that in 1990, Shaw was struck off for 18 months by a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The Tribunal found that Di Stefano secretly removed large sums of cash from accounts controlled by Shaw without the solicitor’s knowledge. The Tribunal’s conclusions stated that Shaw had found himself in "the grip of a Svengali-like figure".

Di Stefano, they said, was "a confidence trickster" who had "taken in and defrauded experienced professional people."

Replying from Italy last night, Di Stefano said he was not aware of any investigation into him and denied knowing anything about the removal of cash from Mr Shaw.

He added: "My involvement in Dundee FC is not conditional to whether I am anything."

Di Stefano has claimed that he has issued a writ in Italy claiming damages of 19.5m from Scotland on Sunday over our articles. No such writ has been received.

It is now clear. however, that the various agencies in England pursuing him, and the SFA or the Scottish courts, will eventually decide whether Giovanni di Stefano can continue his career in the law and with Dundee FC, with all the ramifications that has for the club.

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