Category Archives: Lawyer Jailed
A self-styled Italian lawyer who became known as the Devil’s Advocate and represented Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, was found guilty today of tricking people into thinking he was a bona fide legal professional.
Giovanni di Stefano, who earned his nickname for taking on “unwinnable” cases, was convicted on 25 charges including deception, fraud and money laundering between 2001 and 2011.
The 57-year-old conned clients out of millions of pounds by setting himself up as a lawyer when he had no legal qualifications and was not registered to work as a lawyer in Italy or the UK.
He used the Italian word “avvocato” on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give clients – and the judiciary – the impression he was an advocate.
Di Stefano did not react as the 25 guilty verdicts were delivered at London’s Southwark Crown Court.
The jury of eight women and four men took four hours and 10 minutes to reach its decisions.
During the trial di Stefano told of his links to Robert Mugabe, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and his “friendship” with the daughter of Slobodan Milosevic.
The court was shown a BBC documentary from 2004 in which he described Saddam as a “nice guy” and boasted of being asked to defend killers such as Jeremy Bamber, Harold Shipman, Kenneth Noye and Linda Calvey.
He was born in the small town of Petrella Tifernina in central Italy, but moved to the UK as a boy and went to school in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.
Di Stefano, of North Stream, Marshside, Canterbury, was found guilty of nine counts of obtaining a money transfer by deception, eight counts of fraud, three counts of acquiring criminal property, two counts of using a false instrument, one count of attempting to obtain a money transfer by deception, one count of obtaining property by deception and one count of using criminal property.
During the trial prosecutor David Aaronberg QC told the jury that di Stefano developed “something of a reputation” among convicted criminals, lawyers, the media and the wider community.
“It was this that has gained him the fame, or the notoriety, that he enjoys,” he said.
“He was a man who was willing to provide legal services to clients whose cases others considered unwinnable or too difficult to defend.
“He was willing to argue for unpopular causes.”
Judge Alistair McCreath, the Recorder of Westminster, remanded di Stefano in custody for sentencing at 10.30am tomorrow.
Hilary Ryan from the Crown Prosecution Service’s Organised Crime Division said: “For many years, Giovanni di Stefano described himself to potential clients as a lawyer and usually as an Italian avvocato. He was nothing of the sort.
“When the law caught up with him, he falsely claimed to have obtained various formal, legal qualifications. He then went on to claim that having taught himself the law, he was entitled to describe himself as a lawyer. This was fraud by anyone’s standards and a charade that he kept up for over eight years in order to line his own pockets.
“People rightly expect the utmost integrity from those in the legal profession. Giovanni di Stefano routinely tricked his clients and abused their trust. Those who seek to behave in such a cynical way should take note of this conviction today.”
DI STEFANO’S EARLY LIFE OF CRIME
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic and Robert Mugabe, Giovanni di Stefano has always cut a controversial figure.
The self-styled Italian lawyer built his reputation acting for notorious criminals in cases which propelled him to fame within his profession and even brought him into contact with Osama bin Laden.
But while he made a name for himself in legal circles, di Stefano led his own life of crime.
His relationship with the justice system began rather unusually for an advocate, starting when he first fell foul of the law.
Born in the small town of Petrella Tifernina in central Italy, di Stefano, now 57, moved to the UK as a boy and was educated in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.
However, he found himself behind bars during the late 1970s after going on a spending spree with a credit card stolen from his father.
He told his trial that he felt “aggrieved” and “hard done by” after he was imprisoned for longer than his older co-defendant owing to an “incompetent barrister” who, he claimed, failed to advise him properly.
After his release, he told jurors, he felt compelled to take on the law and devoted much of his time to attending lectures on the subject while working at the University of Cambridge’s physiology department as a research technician.
He pursued his desire to enter the legal profession despite a further conviction in 1984 when he was found guilty of conspiracy charges at the Old Bailey.
But he told jurors he eventually considered himself to be “learned” in the law and believed he could provide legal services to anyone who requested his assistance.
He began to advise clients, eventually setting himself apart from his peers by taking on apparently “unwinnable” cases and earning himself the “Devil’s Advocate” nickname.
Di Stefano – who operated under the company name Studio Legalese Internazionale, which translates as The International Law Firm – used the Italian word “avvocato” on business cards, letterheads and identification documents to give the impression he was an advocate.
He found himself thrust into the spotlight after taking on a string of shady clients including Moors murderer Ian Brady and Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs.
In 2002 he famously acted for millionaire property developer Nicholas van Hoogstraten, managing to overturn his manslaughter conviction after unearthing a legal loophole.
In further high-profile court appearances, he represented M25 killer Kenneth Noye and murderer Jeremy Bamber who was jailed for life in 1986 over the deaths of his adoptive parents, sister and her twin sons.
The outspoken Italian has caused a stir throughout his career owing to his often strident remarks and links to some of the world’s most despised politicians.
Acting for Hussein, he attempted to overturn the Iraqi dictator’s death sentence and in 2007 termed his execution a “crime against humanity” and “wilful murder”.
He sparked outrage again, a year later, branding Britain a “vindictive state” for refusing to release ailing 80-year-old Biggs from prison.
But speculation always surrounded his credentials which were called into question by a High Court judge in 2004, during an appeal by timeshare fraudster John “Goldfinger” Palmer.
Then, the court was told that any European lawyer should be granted the same courtesies and rights of audience as English lawyers.
Di Stefano produced an Italian identity card showing his occupation as advocate, and membership cards of the American Bar Association and International Bar Association.
During his trial, the former director of Scottish football team Dundee remained adamant that he always believed he was qualified to practice.
Reliving moments of his colourful past, he spoke with apparent fondness for Milosevic, telling jurors how the late Yugoslav leader invited him to stay at his home in 1993, provided him with an honorary doctorate of law from Belgrade’s university and made him a Yugoslav citizen.
The businessman, who once insisted that Milosevic died an innocent man, further told how he struck up a relationship with the former president’s daughter.
He met Hussein in 1998 – following an introduction from Milosevic – and was introduced to bin Laden that same year.
Di Stefano, of North Stream, in Canterbury, Kent, was arrested in Majorca in February 2011.
By that stage he was clearly familiar with the intricacies of the judicial system.
Yet seemingly he believed he was still above the law.
A London barrister with a history of tax evasion and bankruptcy has been jailed after failing to pay more than £80,000 in tax.
Edward Paul Agbaje, 60, who worked from 1 Gray’s Inn Square specialising in criminal law, charged clients VAT but failed to pass the cash to HM Revenue & Customs.
He received an 18-month sentence for failing to pay more than £80,000 in tax over a seven-year period after being convicted at the Old Bailey of two counts of cheating the public revenue.
Agbaje, who had been declared bankrupt twice, in 1999 and 2008, claimed in court to have spent the money gambling.
He had been deregistered for VAT by HMRC in February 2005 after failing to submit complete VAT returns dating back to 1994. This meant he was barred from trading above the VAT threshold, which was then £58,000.
He continued to trade, paying no VAT from 2 February 2005 to 17 March 2012. He used his invalid VAT number on invoices during this period and collected more than £59,000 in VAT on fees from clients, pocketing the money rather than passing it on to HMRC.
Assistant director of criminal investigations at HMRC Andrew Sackey said: ‘As a barrister Agbaje should have known better than to try to cheat the system. He thought he was above the law but HMRC will not stand by while criminals try to cheat the taxpayer.’
Agbaje’s offences were discovered during a routine VAT visit to his chambers, when HMRC found that he was using his old, deregistered VAT number on invoices.
HMRC currently has a legal profession taskforce operating in London, targeting non-payment from the sector.
A London solicitor has been jailed for 10 years for running a £20m sham marriage scam.
Tevfick Souleiman (pictured), partner at north London firm Souleiman GA Solicitors, and immigration advisers Cenk Guclu and Furrah Kosimov, were found guilty at the Central Criminal Court of conspiracy to breach immigration law.
Souleiman, 39, whose wife works for the Crown Prosecution Service, was also convicted of receiving proceeds of crime.
Zafer Altinbas, another of the firm’s immigration advisers, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to breach immigration law and to receiving money from the proceeds of crime. All received custodial sentences.
Between 2004 and 2011 the defendants arranged marriage packages for men from outside the EU, providing fake tenancy agreements, employers’ references and forged documents.
Women from eastern European countries were flown in to marry men they had never met, and flown out the next day after being paid by the firm. Men paid up to £14,000 for the service, which enabled them to live and claim benefits in the UK.
Sentencing Souleiman, Judge John Bevan QC said: ‘A heavy responsibility for upholding the rule of law rests with lawyers. If the public cannot trust the integrity of lawyers, who can they trust? You have destroyed that trust by driving a coach and horses through these rules.’
Hassan Emir, a second partner at Souleiman GA Solicitors, told the Gazette he had joined the firm in 2011 and was not implicated in the case.
A spokesman for the Solicitors Regulation Authority said that now the criminal case has concluded, Souleiman would be referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal for investigation.
A senior barrister who specialises in fraud cases has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for failing to pay £600,000 in VAT.
Rohan Pershad QC, 44, of Hammersmith, west London, had stopped paying tax in 1999, Blackfriars Crown Court heard.
He had been found guilty of cheating the public revenue to pocket the cash over a 12-year period, and had tried to claim that he was “extremely poor at paperwork”.
Prosecutors said he had bought two properties in Somerset and Surrey for a total of £1.5 million.
In sentencing, Judge Aidan Marron QC told Pershad: “You have brought disgrace on yourself and have aggravated that position by fighting this case and lying in front of a jury.
“It saddens me that I have to deal with you.”
Describing Pershad as having been “a person of substance to date”, the judge added: “It is sad that you, a successful and otherwise compassionate man, should have sunk to these particular levels.”
Pershad, who specialised in financial disputes, professional negligence and insurance cases, had been guilty of a “persistent” fraud, the judge said.
During his nine-day trial, jurors heard that most barristers were self-employed and were legally required to pay their own VAT.
Pershad stopped doing so in 1999, shortly before he moved to the Thirty Nine Essex Street chambers.
He then fell off the tax register, meaning he “disappeared off the VAT radar” and was classed as a “missing trader” but he continued to work, the court heard.
The prosecution said he knew what his legal responsibilities were.
The judge said: “It is clear to me and was clear during the trial that you decided to capitalise on that situation and in the ensuing 12 years you cheated the revenue of £600,000.
“You willingly and knowingly engaged in persistent and consistent dishonesty.”
Pershad, a father of four children aged from 13 to 21 years, is now a “broken man” who has brought shame on his family, according to Mukul Chawla QC defending.
Before this case he had been considered “a man of previous exemplary good character”, Mr Chawla noted.
He said: “He will never live down the very public humiliation caused by his actions to him but perhaps more pertinently caused to his family.
“Mr Pershad is a broken man. He is never going to be able to work again in the sphere he had previously worked. He is going to have to suffer the shame of going to prison and the consequences of that to his family.”
Mr Chawla suggested that Pershad was not motivated by finances and was not living the high life with expensive cars. His houses had large mortgages, he told the court.
He also suggested that “in the latter period” of the fraud Pershad was “suffering from a depressive illness exacerbated by the breakdown of his marriage”.
A London Queens Counsel faces jail after being convicted of a £600,000 VAT fraud.
Rohan Anthony Pershad QC, who practised from Thirty Nine Essex Street, was convicted at Blackfriars Crown Court today of one count of cheating the public revenue, between 1 June 1999 and 24 September 2011.
The jury had heard that Pershad had failed to pay VAT for 12 years, despite adding VAT to his bills. As a result, he retained an additional income of £624,579.
Pershad had claimed that his chambers had given the impression that payment of his VAT had been taken care of.
Specialist fraud prosecutor Keri Ashworth-Beaumont said: ‘By convicting him today, the jury has concluded that Pershad was acting dishonestly and his failure to pay was not simply an error or mistake.’
She said: ‘Pershad always admitted that he understood the law and the responsibility for meeting his obligations rested on him alone. The message is clear; paying tax is not an optional extra, in any area of working life and withholding tax dishonestly may lead to prosecution.’
Last month the director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC spoke about the importance of prosecuting tax evasion, which he said costs the British economy £14bn a year in lost revenue, equivalent to £769 for every family in the UK.
In 2010-11, the Crown Prosecution Service successfully prosecuted around 200 tax evasion cases. Starmer said he wants that figure to increase five-fold over the next five years to 2014/15.
Pershad will be sentenced later this month. He was remanded on conditional bail and told to expect a custodial sentence.
Thirty Nine Essex Street said in a statement: ‘It is and always has been clear that all members of these chambers, in common with all other self-employed barristers, are personally responsible to account to, and pay, HMRC for VAT received, and for income tax, and it is right that tax evasion should be appropriately punished when proved. On notice of his prosecution, Rohan agreed to the voluntary suspension of his membership of chambers pending the outcome of the trial, and given the circumstances he will no longer be a member.’
A solicitor has been jailed for 26 months after stealing more than £51,000 from an elderly dementia sufferer who treated him like a son.
Michael Rigg, 60, of Carlton Mount, Yeadon, Leeds, had known 84-year-old Jessie Robinson for around 30 years and stood to receive half of her estate when she died.
He began using her money “for his own piggy bank” after he was made power of attorney when Mrs Robinson went into a care home.
Mark Foley, defending Rigg, told Leeds Crown Court his client was “a man of modest means” who spent the money on donations to the church and charity, his mother’s nursing home fees and payments to people “in financial need”.
He said: “That money, it is not suggested, was spent on a profligate lifestyle. There is no evidence of this money being spent frivolously.”
Mr Foley told the court that Rigg, a keen train spotter and cyclist, could not explain why he had taken the money and had “great difficulty in really recognising the enormity and seriousness of what he’s done”.
He said: “One possibility is he was getting his money out before it was spent on nursing home fees.”
The court heard Rigg was a family friend of Mrs Robinson who acted as a solicitor for her and her late husband, looked after her and visited her regularly.
Mr Foley said: “He describes himself as being a son-like figure to the complainant.”
Mrs Robinson drew up a will with a different solicitor, naming Rigg as a 50% beneficiary and, in September 2007, she granted him power of attorney.
The court heard that, while the documents were drawn up correctly, Rigg never registered them.
Over the next three years, he withdrew a total of £51,488.68 from three building society accounts and a Post Office account.
He was arrested in 2011 when staff at the Yeadon branch of the Leeds Building Society became suspicious.
He initially told police he had given some of the money to Mrs Robinson but later admitted he had used it for his own purposes.
He pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud at Leeds Crown Court last month.
Mr Foley said: “This is a solicitor of 60 years of age, a man of good character, who has committed an appalling breach of trust.”
Sentencing Rigg to 26 months in prison, Recorder Tahir Khan QC said: “It was against a vulnerable victim and in these circumstances it is difficult to imagine somebody being more vulnerable and in need of protection.
“You were in a position of great responsibility and trust towards Mrs Robinson.”
He continued: “You persistently stole money belonging to the victim over three years.
“Your occupation as a solicitor would have left you with no doubt at all that what you were engaging in was serious dishonesty.”
The court heard Rigg had repaid the money taken from Mrs Robinson and proceeds of crime proceedings were also under way.
Speaking outside the court after the sentencing, Detective Inspector Steven Taylor, of West Yorkshire Police, said: “This is a bizarre case with no real motive. The only thing that we found was this was easily accessible money.
“He used his client and friend’s money for his own piggy bank.”
The detective added: “The fact that he was a family friend is an aggravating feature. The fact that he’s a professional in a role as such to protect his client, it’s unforgivable really.
“We’re expected as professionals to protect the most vulnerable in society, which this lady is.”