HE IS the man who promised to put Dundee in the Champions League. Instead his appointment as a club director could trigger insolvency for one of Scotland’s most high-profile clubs. The former confidante of the late Serbian warlord Arkan is the advocate for some of this country’s most notorious criminals, but Giovanni Di Stefano’s lasting legacy may be the demise of Dundee football club.
It was a curious quirk of fate that put the future of the Tayside club in the hands of a shady Anglo-Italian entrepreneur. Di Stefano decided to send his son Michele to the elite private school Gordonstoun - who later sued him for non-payment of fees - and a friend interested the youngster in Dundee FC. Not long after, Di Stefano announced he wanted to buy the Dens Park club.
Club owners Jimmy and Peter Marr initially resisted his overtures - Jimmy Marr considered his involvement "unacceptable" in 1999, saying that "our dealings with Mr Stefano are now at an end" on April 30th of that year. But losses of 6.6m last year, and 10m of debt, meant the Marrs may have had little choice but to let him in. It is a decision which now seems sure to backfire.
At its next meeting in a month’s time, the SFA’s general purposes committee, which must ratify the appointment of any football club director, seems certain to take the unprecedented step of refusing to rubber-stamp Dundee’s request. The grounds for their likely decision is that, under Article 10 of their articles of association, Di Stefano is "not a fit and proper person to hold such a position within Association Football".
An SFA insider told Scotland on Sunday that "there will be no rubber-stamping on this (Di Stefano’s) application", adding that they have been put in "an impossible position" by news of the Dundee director’s corrupt past. Were Di Stefano to be banned, it is likely he would withdraw from the club. Dens Park sources believe the loss of his financial backing would force the club into insolvency.
The SFA will have plenty of material to consider. Di Stefano is a convicted fraudster who has consistently lied about his criminal past and his educational qualifications and is presently involved in a huge political scandal in Italy.
Scotland on Sunday has obtained proof that Di Stefano lied about his past as a criminal. He was convicted of serious fraud offences on March 18, 1986 following a 78-day trial at the Old Bailey in London. The amount of money involved in the fraud was reported at the time to have been 25m. In the same case, Di Stefano was also convicted of acquiring huge numbers of video tapes by deception.
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".
Di Stefano 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.
Since his release from Ford Open prison in 1988, Di Stefano has hoodwinked public authorities and the media worldwide and his new associates at Dundee FC, repeatedly maintaining that he was acquitted of the charges on appeal.
But now we can publish - for the first time in a newspaper - a document from the record office at the Central Criminal Court proving that he was convicted and that later, on January 27, 1987, Di Stefano’s appeal against conviction was dismissed.
Giovanni Di Stefano was using the name John at the time, and later when challenged on his criminal past he variously either admitted the conviction or said that the convictions were overturned on appeal or that the offences were committed by "one of his cousins" called John.
Court records, however, show that the John Di Stefano convicted in 1986 had the same birthdate and birthplace - 1955 in Campobasso, Italy - as Giovanni Di Stefano, director of Dundee FC, admits in the latest edition of Marquis Who’s Who.
Any sense that these are events long in the past, however, would be fundamentally misguided, and exactly why the Marr brothers were once so reluctant to accept Di Stefano as a fellow director has now become clear. They were unavailable for comment yesterday.
Shortly after his first attempt to buy into Dundee FC four years ago, Italian police arrested Di Stefano and he was later extradited to face trial in Britain. Less than 30 months ago, the man who claims to have millions to spend on players for Dundee was in jail awaiting trial on fraud charges.
The judge at Basildon Crown Court ruled in June, 2001, that the charges, which related to alleged fraud involving a hotels company called Sandhurst Assets, had to be dropped because of the time that had elapsed since the offences were allegedly committed in the early 1990s. Fraud Squad officers were said to have been angered by the decision "on a technicality" after their lengthy inquiries into Di Stefano.
The SFA will also consider Di Stefano’s financial background. The picture that will emerge is of a highly dubious operator, with a track-record of failed companies.
Documents obtained by Scotland on Sunday show that in 1991, Giovanni Di Stefano became company secretary of Sandhurst Assets plc. Other directors included a Tanya Di Stefano - it is not clear if she was a relation - and a Richard Page. A Reverend Dr Richard Page has accompanied Di Stefano on his trips to Dens Park. He was one of four people recently appointed "Associate Directors" by Dundee FC even though there is no such class of directorate recognised by the SFA.
Though Di Stefano was not made personally bankrupt, Sandhurst Assets was later declared insolvent then put into liquidation and wound up by Whitbread the brewers.
According to court records, only the assets of the company were used to pay Whitbread, implying that the directors and management of Sandhurst Assets plc were unable to repay them.
Di Stefano and his money may be given the red-carpet treatment at Dens these days, but he is not so welcome in several other areas of the world. He has been deported from the USA and banned from entering New Zealand as a prohibited immigrant.
Di Stefano’s banning from New Zealand was heavily publicised in that country in 1990. He had gone there claiming to have $100m to invest in property developments, but the New Zealand authorities refused him entry as a "prohibited immigrant", because they did not believe his assertion that he wasn’t John Di Stefano, convicted criminal.
More damagingly still, Di Stefano was deported from the USA in 1992 by the US Government. Federal Court documents published for the first time today show that when he appealed against the deportation decision in 1995, the court was told that he was found guilty in England "of offences involving fraudulent trading". The case notes add that "at his deportation hearing, Di Stefano admitted being deportable as an alien who was inadmissible at the time of his entry because he was convicted of a crime of moral turpitude."
Di Stefano had been in the USA on a highly-publicised attempt to buy the film studio MGM, 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.
At various times, Di Stefano is reported to have unsuccessfully tried to buy Ellington Colliery in Northumberland and at least one English football club, but it was his association with the late Serbian warlord and probable mass murderer, General Zeljko Raznatovic - better known as Arkan - which caused Dundee to reject his first offer of investment in 1999.
There seem to be few areas of his life and career which bear close scrutiny. He may have become a well-known figure in English courts, thanks to his legal work through his company Studio Legale Internazionale and his high- profile clients such as M25 road-rage murderer Kenneth Noye, mass murder Dr Harold Shipman and timeshare swindler John ‘Goldfinger’ Palmer. But recently, serious doubt has been cast in an English court over Di Stefano’s claim that he is an Italian avvocato (lawyer).
In November of last year, the High Court in London upheld a decision by a prison governor to refuse Di Stefano permission to visit Palmer in jail because of doubts about the Italian’s status as an ‘avvocato’. He was apparently unable to provide the documentary evidence to support his assertion that he is a qualified advocate.
Misrepresentation certainly comes easy to Di Stefano. In the 2003 edition of Marquis Who’s Who - a standard reference book for the financial industries - he falsely states that he earned a doctorate from Cambridge University in 1981. He has also called himself Doctor in the past, as he would be entitled to do if he had obtained a PhD.
However, despite an exhaustive search, the records office at Cambridge University could find no record or either a John or Giovanni Di Stefano having gained any academic qualification around between 1980-2. The only John Di Stefano at Cambridge University at that time was working as a humble lab technician.
In Marquis Who’s Who, Di Stefano claims to be a fellow of both the Royal Society of Arts and the Royal Microscopical Society. Neither Fellowship is an honour. They can be bought over the internet - the former costs 150 to obtain and the latter 115.
All of which places both the SFA and Dundee in great difficulties, particularly the latter. Dundee FC is in a deep financial crisis which Di Stefano promised to cure with the injection of at least 26m. He was registered as a director of Dundee FC Ltd on August 18th and sources at Dens Park say the club might well have closed by now had Di Stefano not appeared.
Worse still, the holding company which owns Dundee, P & J Taverns, whose two directors are Dundee’s majority shareholders Peter and James Marr, is in an equally bad position. Independent auditors PKF took the unusual step of pointing out that both Dundee FC Ltd and P&J Taverns had breached their banking agreements and their level of indebtedness to their bankers was "in excess of their agreed facilities".
A source close to Dundee FC’s financial management said that if Di Stefano was banned from being a director and then pulled out, Dundee would "close unless the Marrs and the bank support the club."
Peter and James Marr have already invested a seven-figure sum in Dundee and may be reluctant or simply unable to put in more money. James, who is club chairman, blamed the so-called ‘Italian experiment’ under Ivano Bonetti for the huge losses.
The ultimate irony is that, for once, Di Stefano may now have the millions he has claimed to possess in the past. Italian newspapers have reported that Di Stefano, who also acted for former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic as well as Arkan, was involved in the 300m deal by Telecom Italia - then a state-run company - to buy Telekom Serbia in 1997. It is not known how much, if anything, Di Stefano made from the deal, which is rapidly becoming the biggest scandal in Italian political history - Di Stefano has named several top politicians as being involved.
Last night, Peter and Jimmy Marr were en route to Dundee from Dubai and Florida. Giovanni Di Stefano told club officials that he is in Italy, but would see them at Dundee’s game against Perugia. It may be the last time the three men meet as directors of Dundee.