Chatting with the Devil's Advocate: Part two
When it comes to legal advice, the devil relies on Giovanni di Stefano, our favourite lawyer.
Arkan with his Tigers
On Friday, we ran part one of an interview with Giovanni di Stefano, a lawyer whose defences of Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Harold Shipman and Gary Glitter have earned him the nickname "The Devil's Advocate". In part two I talk to him about his time as a Serbian paramilitary General, why owning a football team is like having a nagging wife and how he'd rather vouch for Adolf Hitler than Tony Blair in court.
VICE: How did you end up becoming friends with the Serbian paramilitary criminal Arkan?
Giovanni di Stefano: We had a longstanding friendship from back in London when he was working in a hotel. When the attack on Kosovo occurred in March '99, 2,000 of Arkan’s Serbian Volunteer Guard [The Tigers, pictured above] moved down to Pech. When I saw that I flew from Rome to Belgrade, sat with Arkan and as a General of the 1st Line I told him not to move the troops across the border, but I was overruled. I said “We’ve now moved 2,000 troops down to Pech and it's likely that they’re going to kill a good few people, correct?” He said “Correct”. So then I asked, “Who’s going to pay them?” because at the end of the day it all comes down to money—during the Balkan war each soldier was earning 1,000 DM per month. This time we had no financial backing from the government or the banks, so Arkan would’ve had to lay out two million DM a month. He didn’t want to, so I told him to pull the men back as it had nothing to do with us. My mandate as a General of The Tigers was to protect the borders of Yugoslavia and there was no-one attacking our borders, so he eventually pulled them back and demobbed them.
So if you had a say in what the SVG did, could you order them to attack?
Yes obviously, and I still would do today if the Serbian borders are at risk from invasion. I wouldn’t hesitate to do so but only if the criteria was correct. I would do the same for Italy and for England, if I had the rank.
Are you comfortable having such responsibilities?
Yes, more so than Blair because he made those decisions on a bed of mendacity and lies. At least mine were more informed. We were not in danger or peril, Kosovo wasn’t attacking us, why the fuck would we want to go there and spill blood?
What do you say to the people who accuse the SVG of war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia?
Everyone is entitled to an opinion but so called war crimes have been committed by every single country in the world at one time or another in history.
As a General in the SVG did you ever have to fire a weapon?
Yes, but not at people of course.
What was it like running FK Obilic?
Running a football team was a waste of money and time. You can never get it right. It’s like having a nagging wife—you can enjoy giving her one but she’ll always nag, nag, nag you to death. So unless you want that lifestyle, stay away. Football is a nasty business, one that I really try and do without. I’m still interested in Dundee FC but only if I’m the 100 percent owner and I have a dictatorial command, it’s the only way to own a club. My friend Ken Bates at Leeds has complete control from the socks the players wear to how many times the ground is watered. If there’s a mistake it lands on him, but if they win they build a statue in his honour.
When you were with Obilic, did you have a say in who played and what formations they were playing in?
No not really but I could have done. I was the clean person of the club who could travel around Europe. I met Beckenbauer when we lost to Munich and I did all the negotiations with UEFA when we got thrown out of the Champions League. I have a lot of friends in UEFA now.
What do you say to people who claimed Arkan and his associates threatened opposition players to discourage them from scoring against FK Obilic?
It’s a load of bollocks. There were 40 games a season, how on Earth can you threaten 40 times and win? It’s impossible. Even if he did one or two how can you account for the others that we actually won? Look at the players we had, they were all subsequently sold for a lot of money in Europe. They say that because they want to discredit Arkan.
What was Arkan like as a person?
He was fucking fantastic, a very nice man, a true friend. I always used to tell him what I thought, I wasn't a yes man like the others around him, not me. Same with Milosevic, same with Saddam.
[caption id="attachment_20720" align="aligncenter" width="379" caption="Milosevic mid-YMCA, circa genocide"]
How did you become friends with Milosevic?
We met through Arkan and he invited me over to become a Serbian citizen.
Were you at his trail at The Hague?
For a couple of days, but he acted for himself so he got more disclosure and time. But he was not murdered, he just died. It’s wrong to say he was murdered. I had my suspicions at the beginning but he just died, just one of those things.
What’s your favourite football team?
At the moment it has to be Real Madrid. My son plays for the youth team.
Who’s the weirdest client you’ve ever had?
Except for yourself, which client put you on edge and you felt you couldn’t trust?
Well I don’t have those emotions, once I’m defending a client, everything they say is right until proven otherwise. I can’t work any other way. But there were a few people that made me uncomfortable, like Rojas of the FARC rebels who was killed after Ingrid Betancourt’s rescue. I couldn’t see the point in keeping that bird for so many years, but not everything there was as it seemed. She was not always a prisoner, that’s all I can say. But yeah, Rojas was a strange guy. Some members of Hezbollah and Hamas, too.
You’ve been quoted as saying that if you had a chance you would defend Adolf Hitler at trial.
Without a doubt, with pleasure.
Do you think you could have successfully won the case?
Let me say that Adolf Hitler – in a properly constituted tribunal that was proper and fair with judicial rules of evidence – could not even be charged. Let alone indicted or convicted of any crime.
Why is that? He always struck me as pretty guilty.
Because there is no evidence linking him to anything, no admissible evidence anyway. No documents, no pieces of paper with his name on it. The Germans were big ones for keeping records but no single letter has his name on it that could confirm his involvement in the Holocaust. There were many assumptions and presumptions that he must have know but that’s a different thing to knowing. If I met Adolf Hitler in the street I’d probably put a bullet in his head, but on the other hand Adolf Hitler was a Jew himself. Put it this way, he put Israel on the map. Without those six million dead, who the fuck had heard of Israel, who would’ve given a hoot about Israel, would that country even have been born if those six million hadn’t died?
Well that may be so but it’s not exactly a good reason for a country to exist.
It’s not even a good reason for half a person to die, but I’m just telling you the facts as they are. Before 1948 there was no Israel, the moment that six million are supposedly killed by Hitler, Israel goes on the map. He was a Jew, how do we know he didn’t do that to put Israel on the map? Remember Mao Tse Tung murdered 100 million people so that 800 million could survive, remember that.
So if you had the chance to defend Mao or Stalin you’d do the same?
Obviously Stalin, with great pleasure. He actually did kill 60 million people it just depends on how far back you want to look into history. Britain has killed more people as a country than any others combined, so what do we do? Do I indict people for what happened in India or Pakistan, and the trouble that cause between the two countries?
If Tony Blair was ever indicted for war crimes, would you come to his defence?
No I am indicting him, so I will act as prosecutor. So far the attorney general has refused me leave to prosecute but I have appealed it. I will never defend him, unless he pays me big time and recommends me for a knighthood.
What’s your political allegiance, left or right, Tory or Labour?
I have my own party, The Radical Party of Great Britain. It’s a registered political party. I’m a nationalist but not an extremist.
What’s the difference between the two?
Giovanni has just bought MGM Pye-Pathe records. They hold the rights to Sinatra's back catalogue and will host an International Music Awards in San Marino in an effort to get the microstate back into Eurovision after the nasty Italian broadcaster Rai Television took away their funding. Look forward to seeing Great Britian's entry losing to yet another obscure country in 2011.