Thursday, November 10, 2005

Gun Law and the Devil's Advocate

Arkan's associate, Giovanni Di Stefano

Law n'Order

LAW in "liberated" Iraq is reaching Western standards. Sure, wasn't Gun Law a Western?. Lawyer Adel al-Zubeidi was to represent former Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan in the forthcoming trial of Saddam Hussein and henchmen. But he was killed and another attorney wounded when gunmen shot up their vehicle on Tuesday.

This was the second killing of a defence lawyer. Saadoun al-Janabi was abducted by masked gunmen the day after the opening session. His body was found later with bullets in his head.

Holding the US-led occupation forces and the Iraqi government responsible for failing to maintain order, defence team head Khalil al-Dulaimi said if their security could not be guaranteed the November 28 trial would be rendered "null and void" because of the "very dangerous circumstances that prevent the presence" of the lawyers.

Abdel-Haq Alani, a key coordinator on the defense team, told Associated Presse from London that the Americans were obliged to protect defense lawyers as "the occupying power." The United States maintains that status ended when the coalition returned sovereignty to the Iraqis on June 28, 2004.

So US forces can carry on besieging and bombing Iraqi towns to get rid of "insurgents, and British tanks can smash their way through Basra to free SAS men who shot their way through a checkpoint with a carload of explosives. But we are not to call it an "occupation" any more, because Iraqis now enjoy "sovereignty"?!

OK, so I'm no lawyer. It would not surprise me if this time next year we'll be asked to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Russian tanks going to the assistance of the civil power in Hungary (with a little regime change); and the Egyptian people's welcome for Anglo-French forces coming to help keep the Suez canal running smoothly. (They tried to topple Nasser too, only on that occasion Washington put a block on things).

Getting back to these attacks, they do rather go against the idea that all the killings and ambushes in Iraq are carried out by Saddam Hussein supporters. Including the many killings of educated Iraqis, union and community activists, and professionals, that might suggest a systematic campaign, but largely go unreported. And the way foreign aid workers or journalists who don't toe the US line are the ones who get kidnapped.

I'm not awfully worried what happens to Saddam Hussein, except for what it shows about what's happening to many decent Iraqis. All the same, it would be nice for him to get a fair and proper trial - just think of all those past arms suppliers and friendly heads of government he could call as his witnesses. Can you hear me, Maggie?

Devil's Advocate

Like I say, I'm no lawyer. Nor according to the Law Society, is Giovanni Di Stefano. But recognised or not he is one of Saddam Hussein's defence team. Now if Di Stefanno had been shot I'd not be shedding tears except from laughter, but we must wait. Apparently the Anglo-Italian wheeler-dealer's departure for Baghdad was delayed by more pressing business.

As noted in "Private Eye" (28 October) he has been speaking on behalf of Nadine Milroy-Sloane, imprisoned for perverting the course of justice after falsely accusing Neil and Christine Hamilton of rape. (it couldn't happen to a nicer couple). Di Stefano told the "Daily Star" he believes "we have strong ground for appeal".

Miss Milroy-Sloane is certainly more appealing than a lot of his clients.
Giovanni Di Stefano first gained notice as a customer rather than provider of legal services. He appeared on six counts of fraudulent trading in 1984, and spent three years inside before being freed, he says on appeal, though others dispute this. Whatever the circumstances he turned up in Yugoslavia in 1991, and soon had Yugoslav citizenship granted by Milosevic.

He became an associate -political and business - of Zelijko Raznjatovic, better-known as Arkan, leader of the so-called Serb Volunteer Guard, or "Tigers", irregulars operating for the Serb Interior Ministry, whose opponents they removed or silenced. Along with ruthless ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, they enjoyed rape and pillage, robbing fellow-Serbs when they had run out of "enemy" civilians.

In 1997 Di Stefano wrote warning British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook that British soldiers would be killed if they made any attempt to bring in Arkan as a war criminal. The businessman-"lawyer" also boasted to the Sunday Times that he had met John Major several times, and that he had donated £10,000 to the Tory party before his conviction and another £20,000 after release. He insisted there was nothing irregular about this.

"I am a Conservative. I'm the epitome of conservative.
It is not an offence to give money to politicians for their services" (Sunday Times, July 27, 1997)

As Arkan expanded into various businesses in Serbia, from flowers to a football club, Di Stefano too began popping up as fairy godfather offering to invest money in cash-strapped British soccer clubs - Dundee, Norwich, Northampton Town, - and even a doomed Northumberland colliery. Somehow, while still abroad, he knew where to dangle his carrot.

Arkan, took to boasting that he would go to the Hague if wanted, and bring down all sorts of people. He was gunned down himself in a Belgrade hotel. His threats and his business activity had got up the nose of the bigger gangsters, both state and private. Then Di Stefano came under investigation in Italy in connection with business affairs. But somehow he survived to fight another day.
Tony Clarke, the Labour MP for Northampton South, who fought attempts by di Stefano to take over Northampton Town football club, said: "Everything about this man is shrouded in mystery. The authorities need to take a very close look at his legal qualifications, because if he is not legally qualified, heaven knows how that affects the cases he has been involved in."

Somehow, qualified, disqualified, or whatever, Di Stefano claimed some big name clients, big bad name that is - time-share racketeer John Palmer, road-rage killer and bullion robber Kenneth Noye, Dr.Harold Shipman, property tycoon and thug-employer Nicholas "tenants are scum" van Hoogstraten.

Some of these might just have been chosen for publicity-value, like his claims to have met Osama Bin Laden. But the "mystery man" seems to have been able to wave his magic wand for not only Palmer, but Hoogstraten. The latter has been restored to his Sussex mansion even though two of his associates are serving life for the murder of a business rival who got in the way.

Could Giovanni di Stefano yet pull it off for Saddam Hussein?
I doubt it. But then like I said, I'm no lawyer..




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