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Di Stefano conned family out of £575,000, court told

An Italian adviser known as the Devil's Advocate pocketed more than £575,000 a client paid him for legal services that were never provided, a court has heard.

Former Dundee Football Club director Giovanni di Stefano, 57 – who allegedly tricked people into thinking he was a legal professional when he was "not a qualified lawyer at all", according to the prosecution – is on trial at Southwark Crown Court in London. He is charged with 25 counts including deception, fraud and money laundering.

Prosecutor David Aaronberg, QC, told the jury that accountant Subhash Thakrar had asked di Stefano to get a bankruptcy order against him scrapped.

The Italian said he could annul the ruling and told Mr Thakrar to transfer around £48,000 in advance of any legal work. But within days, Mr Aaronberg told the jury of eight women and four men, di Stefano had frittered away the cash.

He convinced the Thakrars to pay a further £53,000. But again the money was soon spent.

Mr Aaronberg continued: "In December 2007, Mr di Stefano - indicated further funds would be required.

"He told the Thakrars that, if they could raise £476,750, he would himself contribute £1 million, or more if necessary, and take repayment once the bankruptcy was annulled."

Mr Aaronberg said di Stefano continued to give the impression to the Thakrars he was rich and well connected by asking them to attend meetings in Rome and Portugal.

He sent them messages saying he could have a certain judge thrown off their case, and that he had been working in Iraq with the US Secretary of State. He told them he was holding the money "in trust", that he would only use it for the purpose of scrapping the bankruptcy, and he "was dealing with their case" and "matters were well in hand".

But as the months and years went by, the Thakrars' confidence in di Stefano was waning, Mr Aaronberg said.

They demanded their money back, but nothing was returned.

The prosecutor said: "All of the monies, totalling £575,927, have been lost."

Mr Aaronberg told the jury that although Mr Thakrar was "not a man of virtue", he was still a victim, as were the other members of his family.

Di Stefano, of Canterbury, Kent, denies all 25 charges.

The trial continues.

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