In our new column, infamous lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano defends seemingly reprehensible people.
Hello readers, my name is Giovanni Di Stefano. That's me up there, with Roger Moore! I am a "lawyer" known as the Devil's Advocate, because I have defended the indefensible, from Baghdad to Birmingham, from Saddam Hussein to Charles Manson. Now, for VICE Magazine I strip the law naked and explain the most controversial cases that make or break the news. Don't miss my weekly column. Yours, G.
Welcome to Hell, or – more accurately – Hell's courtroom. As Giovanni explained in his standfirst, he'll be making an appearance on VICE.com every week (or most weeks, it depends if there's an interesting enough case for him to answer), living up to his nickname and putting forward a hypothetical legal (note – not moral) defence of that week's most reprehensible people. Or the people who've been accused of doing the most reprehensible thing. It's probably important for us to make that clear here. I know G would probably have our back, but I'm sure he doesn't come cheap.
I've known Giovanni since my days as an intern at VICE, when I interviewed him about his colourful background which has included stints defending Saddam Hussein, Slobodan Milosevic, Harold Shipman and Gary Glitter, as well as one running a Serbian football team. I knew it wasn't just any old interview – and something vastly more special than that – when he gave me some disturbing insights into my parents' sex life. Since then, we've stayed in-touch and he's kept me updated on what he's been up to, whether it's accusing Arnold Schwarzenegger of being a murderer or trying to get Charles Manson out of prison.
In the first edition of Devil's Advocate, Giovanni talks about his mate and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has charges relating to underage prostitution hanging over him and has recently been sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud. What case is there to answer, you might say? Well, Berlusconi has two chances of appeal and the Italian constitution on his side, and Giovanni will help us understand the complicated world of Italian law that will probably let Berlusconi walk free without ever seeing the inside of a jail cell.
VICE: So, Berlusconi...
Giovanni Di Stefano: It’s nonsense; it’s a politically-motivated case. We all know that.
So you think the case against him is politically motivated to make sure he can’t stand for office again any time soon?
Until the Supreme Court has ruled and ratified the decision, sentences in Italian law are non-enforceable. Berlusconi's going to appeal, and we’re not even going to get into the first grade of his appeal before the statute of limitations* comes in, let alone before the case gets to the Supreme Court. It’s all academic, all nonsense and all a waste of fucking time.
*the statute of limitations sets the maximum time after an event that legal proceedings against it may be initiated. In Italy, this is equal to the maximum sentence someone can receive for the crime they're accused of. It's a little confusing, but basically, if you're accused of committing a crime that carries a maximum sentence of four years five years ago, you can't be prosecuted for it.
So they were trying to rush through this decision before the statute of limitations runs out next year, but you’re saying it won’t even see the first appeal?
No, the first appeal won't be until the statute period runs out. Take the case of Priebke, the Nazi SS member who was found guilty of murdering a number of Italian citizens. The statute on war crimes under the war tribunals was 20 years. So, although he was sentenced to life imprisonment, it wasn't effective. He lives in a monastery in Italy and is free to do what he wants. He's 84, so he can't do fuck all, obviously, but he is free.
How long is the statute of limitations in this case?
Ten years, and these offences were meant to have taken place in 2003 – it's 2013 next year, so it's just not going to happen. He also fell into the amnesty rule, so his four-year sentence was immediately reduced to one, and since he's over 70, he can't go to jail unless it's a capital case. Even then, it's more likely he'd do house detention instead of preliminary detention. It’s just not going to happen. Berlusconi will go back into office.
Hasn’t he been banned from office?
No, because it’s not effective until it’s definitive. The whole damn caboodle is stuck until the Supreme Court makes a decision.
Do you think this statute of limitations is impeding justice in Italy, or would you say it’s just a part of…
Helping justice. We have the constitution in Italy, which heavily protects the individual and the citizen. In Italy, everything the citizen does is legal until proven otherwise, which isn't the case in the UK. If you're leaving the UK with a grand in your pocket and can't or don't want to explain where that money came from, it's seen as proceeds of crime, which is bollocks. Whereas, the Italian footballer Mario Balotelli was stopped by police with £5000 in cash in his pocket and, when the police asked him why he had it, he replied, "Well, because I am rich." I thought that was quite funny.
I’m surprised they didn’t take it. So, let’s say an appeal does come in time.
But if it did, what would your case be for appeal?
It's a case that's been ongoing for six years, so it's not that simple. The allegation is that he acquired rights to a company and then inflated the prices of those rights and he basically hid some of the money so he didn't have to pay tax on it, which is simply not the case. I know the prices because we were involved when those rights were originally sold in 1990. Berlusconi is at a disadvantage as well, because he's a right-wing man in a country still infiltrated with communists.
Communists? In Italy?
Yes. They want to get Berlusconi because he has money and power.
You think they’re just trying to knock him down a peg and dilute his influence and that of the whole right wing in Italy?
It happens all the time. Why would magistrates become politicians? Which other country do you know where judges and lawyers – practicing lawyers – turn themselves into politicians and have their own political parties? In Italy, you have Di Pietro – a practicing judge – who formed the IDV, a party that sounds like a fucking female contraceptive device.
That is a bit problematic. I guess that throws up some interesting questions about the integrity of the trial.
That says it all. We know there's an infiltration of reds and blues in the judiciary system. It's obvious in Italy. The guy who started everything against Berlusconi was a magistrate who now has his own political party and he’s only attacked the right-wing politicians.
In the appeal, you would say this is politically motivated and that there’s clearly vested interest in people trying to convict Berlusconi – so, on those grounds, you’d go for a mistrial?
Yeah, you've got to kill it off.
I bet it’s quite expensive running these trials.
He’s entitled to get his expenses covered, but he never applies for it.
And then there's the sex charges trial on top of all this. Do you think that trial has any merit?
Well, it's illegal in Italy to have sex with anyone under 18 – that person is a minor – but it's not statutory. In other words, if I have sex with you and have reasonable belief that you are 18, it's not an offence.
So, if she (Iris Berardi) said, “Oh, I’m 18,” it’s fine?
That’s his defence. She said she was 24 and – let me tell you – that'll stand up because she fucking looks more than 18 by anyone’s standards. Publish a photo of her with this interview and ask how old people think she is. Because if I was single, like Berlusconi, I would have given her one, as would many other men if they were being honest.
Do you think that a clever man like Berlusconi would have been a little bit naïve to take her for her word?
I mean, you don’t go around checking people’s driving licenses and IDs. You wanna fuck. Sex is something of the moment. If you’re going to have to go around checking up on people, your dick goes fucking cold. And, at 74, you either do it or you don’t. He said he didn’t have any sexual relations with her and I have a tendency to believe him.
At his age I’d be pretty surprised if he did.
No, I mean he can give one, I know that. I know he likes women and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s not married any more, why shouldn’t he have a fuck a day?
I suppose so, as long as they're of age, Giovanni.
John Major was married and he was knocking off what’s-her-name. The difference in this country is that you do it covertly and secretly. In Italy, does anyone actually give a fuck? He’s still the most popular person; it doesn’t matter if he’s shagging one, two or three women.
Do you think those allegations make Italy and its politics look bad?
Well, when the Clinton scandal broke about Monica Lewinski, the first question Berlusconi asked Tony Blair was, “What is five-and-a-half-inches in millimetres?” which was supposedly the size of Clinton’s dick. We've analysed Clinton’s sexual behaviour and conduct, including cunnilingus during a menstrual cycle, including a cigar up vaginas, including semen on dresses. I mean, Berlusconi hasn’t been done for any of that – he just likes to have a girlfriend or two.
That’s all well and good, but if he did have sex with this girl at 17…
Well, she looks over 18 to me. His evidence at trial stated that she'd told him she was 24 and he'd believed her.
So he’s denying everything?
I actually believe him. I know Silvio; if he shagged someone, he’d say it. I know the women he shags, so there’s no problem on that. There’s no harm in shagging someone who looks 24, as long as you believe that. I know for certain he wouldn’t go looking at her ID or driver’s license or anything like that. She's behaved like a very mature sexual adult throughout all of this.
Back to the tax case – you’re saying that there isn’t really any chance to appeal it.
By the time it comes to sentencing, he’s gonna be almost 80 years of age. You don’t go to prison on those kinds of cases when you’re more than 70, even if there was a prison-worthy sentence. If you're sentenced to a period of four years or less it’s automatically suspended, because it’s like your first offence and you’re given a chance. Everyone deserves a chance in life.
Could Berlusconi be considered a Teflon Don? He just manages to avoid every charge that comes near him.
It’s because he’s innocent. He’ll never do time in jail. I can tell you this exclusively, there's a very, very good chance – remember his statement, “I will never run for Prime Minster again”? He never said he wouldn’t run for President...
So do you think he would?
I don’t think, I know. He won’t deny it if put to him.
Do you think that’s a good idea?
It’s a brilliant idea. It’s the only chance Italy has of doing anything and getting out of the bollocks about the Euro. Berlusconi is capable of bringing that home, if his heart doesn’t give out.
A letter sent to Giovanni from Silvio Berlusconi.
How did you meet Berlusconi?
In 1987 at MGM. At the time, MGM owned Channel 7 in Italy and obviously we had 3,000 films – some we sold to Warner, some to Turner and the rest of the European rights we sold to Berlusconi and other people. We’ve been friends ever since then. I can tell you he’s one hell of a nice guy. You’ll never put your hands in your pockets when you’re with him. Never.
Maybe that’s his problem.
Well, it’s his money, not the state’s.
Did you ever get invited to a bunga bunga party?
I never even knew he had any to be quite honest with you. I've been to his house before and he's very much a family man. He may have hordes of women, but what politician doesn’t?
What do you think about the Savile paedophile case?
Well, who was the one who had the bollocks to break that story first? Giovanni Di Stefano.
Where’s all your money for doing that?
It’s part of a public service.
Where’s your knighthood?
The UK want to fucking jail me, but I will prevail. I'm not like Assange, though. Assange is a coward and should fuck off to Sweden and take what’s coming to him. I've come back to the UK since I was accused and have been treated very well, because that's how responsible people behave. Berlusconi is responsible.
Interview by Henry Langston.