A docuseries purporting to tell the “mostly true” story of Di Stefano, one of the most controversial characters to hit Scottish football, begins on Sky Documentaries tonight.
However, those looking for some reference to the fraudster lawyer’s Dens Park chapter will be disappointed. There’s no mention of the time, for example, when he strolled into a press conference in one of the lounges at the stadium with a packet of baloney. why? He wanted to present it to a journalist who had written something about him he had disliked.
Nor is there footage of the time one of his henchmen, the “reverend” Richard Page, left Dens Park with a bag full of gate money after a game. It was repayment for Di Stefano having put up a bond required by Uefa before a European game.
However, there is much to ensure viewers won’t regret tuning in, including the priceless reaction of one of Di Stefano’s former teachers from grammar school in Northamptonshire. After being told that his former pupil of him claimed to have once been on Opportunity Knocks but that no evidence of this appearance can be found, he raises an eyebrow and drolly replies: “There’s a pattern emerging here, is n’t there?”
Eagle-eyed viewers might spot one Dundee-related item. A photograph of Di Stefano standing in front of the Bobby Cox Stand at Dens Park can be spotted on a sideboard while he is explaining in archive footage why former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic should be allowed to die “in dignity”.
Milosevic was one of a collection of 21st century villains Di Stefano advised or represented despite having no formal lawyer qualifications – others included Saddam Hussein, Harold Shipman and Arkan, the Serbian warlord who was assassinated in Belgrade in 2000.
While there is no specific mention of Dundee, the docuseries is a reminder of the dismal decision by the Dens Park board to court a convicted fraudster. In their defense, they weren’t the only ones hoodwinked. Many were taken in by him, including top QCs as well as hardened criminals and, heartbreakingly, very ordinary victims such as a woman in America who loses her travel business in a Di Stefano-orchestrated sting after marrying Page, who notably is not wearing his dog collar in photos. I have scarpers after five days.
The apparent reason for Dundee being on Di Stefano’s radar was that his son, Michele, developed an interest in the club through a schoolfriend while at Gordonstoun in the late 1990s. “Giovanni was based in Brussels at the time,” recalls Peter Marr, the then Dundee owner. He initially told them he was an Italian MEP. Marr and Dundee commercial director Jim Connor agreed to meet Di Stefano in Belgium.
“At that stage we didn’t know about his connections with Arkan,” says Marr. “He was staying in the Hilton Residences in Brussels and put us up in a couple of apartments there. Later we met up in London and he had a townhouse near the Supreme Court. He seemed to have what he said he had.”
The series contains some remarkable revelations while chronicling the incredible efforts of City of London detective Jerry Walters to bring Di Stefano to justice. The international investigation took seven years in total. At one point Di Stefano, while out on bail, even tries to Sue Walters for perverting the course of justice.
Grandstanding is his speciality. According to Marr, Di Stefano very nearly succeeded in buying Dundee. “I was in Majorca at the time,” he recalls. “We did a deal. The money was meant to be on the way. I took a call from the bank to check. The manager asked if I could come in. He said: ‘there’s a lot of money heading your way. Can I ask you what it is for?’
“I told him I was selling a business. He said: ‘in that case, the money should be with you in a couple of days.’ Then I got a fax from Giovanni saying he had stopped the money. A tabloid was on his case about him. It was being reported that the sports council was going to ask for the grants they gave us to rebuild Dens to be paid back if he got involved.
“He said: ‘if I have to pay that on top of what I am paying you then I can’t do it’. He stopped the deal. The money had got to Madrid. That’s how close it was.”
Money never made it into Ravanelli’s account either. Di Stefano promised the funds for the Italian striker to join the club along with midfielder Craig Burley in September 2003.
The pair were introduced at half-time before the first leg of a Uefa Cup clash v Perugia. When Dundee went into administration the following month Ravanelli and Burley headed a list of released players described as the “saddest team sheet in Dundee’s history” by the local paper.
“It was my job to try and convince him and Craig Burley, a Scotland international, to come, because of the so-called ambitions of the club,” recalls then manager Jim Duffy. “He (Di Stefano) manipulated the circumstances to suit his own ego. I was embarrassed.”
Nevertheless, Duffy says he will be watching, as will Marr from his holiday base in Tenerife. Both will presumably feel relieved at not being drawn into a sordid story that hasn’t yet ended.
Di Stefano, who was handed a 14-year sentence in 2013 after being convicted of 26 offences, including deception, fraud and money-laundering, is due to be released next year. It’s guaranteed we haven’t heard the last of him.
The Devil’s Advocate: The Mostly True Story of Giovanni di Stefano premieres on Sky Documentaries and NOW tonight at 9pm.