The lawyer who backed a war criminal

As the debate continues over what should happen to the body of Erich Priebke, a Nazi who died in Rome on Friday, The Local takes a look at the life of the war criminal's lawyer.

The lawyer who backed a war criminal
Paolo Giachini leaves his Rome residence. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Who is Paolo Giachini?

Paolo Giachini is a 60-year-old Italian lawyer, based in Rome.

Why is he in the news?

As lawyer for Nazi Erich Priebke, Giachini has been in the spotlight since the 100-year-old war criminal died on Friday.

Priebke was living under house arrest in Rome for his role in the Ardeatine caves massacre, a revenge attack in which 335 civilians were killed.

The former SS officer’s death has sparked an international furore. Priebke had wished to be buried next to his wife in Argentina, where he fled after the Second World War, but the country refused to take the corpse.

Germany has said it is up to Italy to decide what to do with the body, which remains at a military airport outside of Rome. Italy appears at a loss; not wishing to bury Priebke for fear the grave could become a neo-Nazi shrine.

What does Giachini have to say about all of this?

His is not best pleased. After the Vatican banned Priebke’s funeral from being held in one of Rome’s Catholic churches, he threatened to hold a ceremony in the city’s Villa Borghese or the street.

After a breakaway Catholic group agreed to host the funeral – which was gatecrashed by neo-Nazis – Giachini reportedly gave up his power of attorney and the Italian authorities drove Priebke’s body to the airport.

However, the lawyer later told reporters that the body had been “kidnapped”.

Apparently fed up by the situation, Giachini said the Nazi was now the authorities’ problem: “Italy wanted him, had him extradited, tried him, convicted him and kept him for years. Now let [Italy] keep the hot potato.”

So how close was Giachini to Priebke?

Certainly closer than lawyers and clients usually are. In 1996 Priebke was extradited to Italy after nearly 50 years in Argentina; two years later he was sentenced to life in prison.

Due to his age Priebke was allowed to serve out his sentence under house arrest; for the 15 years up to his death, the Nazi lived in Giachini’s own home.

The lawyer went above the call of legal duty and collected signatures calling for the war criminal to be pardoned and formed an association, Uomo e Libertà (Man and Freedom), in support of Priebke, La Stampa reported.

Giachini also helped pen Priebke’s autobiography.

Is this the first time Giachini has been so close to such a figure?

No. Giachini also represented Michael Seifert, the “Beast of Bolzano”. Seifert was a Nazi guard in northern Italy accused of brutal acts including gouging out a prisoner’s eyes. He died in 2010 while serving a life sentence for multiple murders.

Giachini has also been acquainted with Clemente Graziani, the founder of extreme right groups, La Stampa reported.

So what is Giachini’s own view on his controversial clients?

He has spoken out against using Priebke as an excuse to equate a German soldier as a “symbol of evil”.

Such backlash has instead led to a “reaction of solidarity, a firm front” which has gained in strength and is not composed of the cliched “skinheads”, Giachini was quoted in La Stampa as saying.

He also criticized the political debate surrounding his client’s death after Rome’s mayor said Priebke should not be allowed a solemn funeral in the city.

“This is a moment of mourning and has nothing to do with politics,” Giachini said. 

The Local's Italian Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Italian Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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Art stolen from prince by Nazis turns up in Italian home

Three fifteenth-century paintings which were stolen from the Prince of Luxembourg's Tuscan villa by Nazi forces in 1944 have been found in Italy.

Art stolen from prince by Nazis turns up in Italian home
Italian police have found three Renaissance masterpieces stolen by Nazis during WWII. Photo: Caribinieri

The paintings were smuggled out of Prince Felix of Bourbon-Parma's plush villa in Camaiore, a city within Lucca province, and subsequently taken to Dornsburg castle in north-eastern Bolzano, where the head of the SS in Italy, General Karl Wolff, had set up his headquarters.

Felix, the son of the deposed Duke of Parma, married Luxembourg's monarch, the Grand Duchess Charlotte in 1919. 

During the war, Allied soldiers even raided the castle, filled with stolen art, in order to recapture some of the works – events which formed the basis for George Clooney's 2014 film 'Monuments Men'.

The prince's stolen paintings were never found, with the Italian state compensating him in 1945 for the value of the stolen pieces after he filed a post-war damages claim against the government.

But in December 2014, the first of the three paintings – a portrait of the Madonna and child by Renaissance painter Gianni Battista Cima – was found by police in the Monza home of a Milan-based family.

The painting, found among the family's collection during a routine investigation into art documentation, was said to have been inherited from a deceased art-dealing relative, but it is not known how the painting come into the relative's possession. 

The stolen picture of the Madonna and child, by Gianni Battista Cima. Photo: Caribinieri

During subsequent investigations, two more stolen artworks came to light: a tempera on wood panel showing the Holy Trinity by early Renaissance painter Alessio Baldovinetti and a painting showing Jesus at the temple by Girolamo dai Libri.

The paintings were seized by police and have now been entrusted to the Brera Art Gallery in Milan, where they were presented to the press on Monday.