Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Joseph Mifsud: Missing Key To The Mueller Witch Hunt

Mysterious Professor Mifsud with shady history is missing.
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee repeatedly asked Special Counsel Robert Mueller why he never indicted Joseph Mifsud, who was key to the Russia collusion narrative.

They appear to believe that Mifsud was possibly used by opponents of then-candidate Donald Trump to implicate his campaign in wrongdoing, and provide the basis for later surveillance and investigation (as well as, though they did not succeed, prosecution and impeachment).

Mifsud was key to the prosecution of junior Trump campaign foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos, who admitted that he lied to the FBI about meeting Mifsud before joining the campaign. (They had met afterwards.)

As Breitbart News has noted:

Their [the media] story reportedly was that a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud told Papadopoulos the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, and Papadopoulos passed that on during a meeting at a bar with Australian diplomat Alexander Downer in London, prompting Downer to tell U.S. officials, and prompting the FBI investigation. However, Mifsud’s lawyer would later tell CNN and other outlets that the professor was never a Russian agent, but instead working on behalf of Western intelligence.

The International Business Times adds (original links):

A report in October from the Associated Press described Mifsud as having a “bizarre academic career punctuated by scandals and disappearing acts.” Some have rumored that Mifsud has died, but his Swiss-German lawyer, Stephan Roh, told the AP that Mifsud is still alive.

Mifsud faced scandals in the early 2000s while working at the University of Malta, where he was accused of “financial mismanagement.” He then disappeared in 2007 and began to work at the Euro-Mediterranean University in Slovenia.

He reportedly left the university with close to the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars in debt, before vanishing once again. Mifsud then began working at the London Academy of Diplomacy in 2013. It was is in London that Mifsud met Trump’s advisor Papadopolous to discuss the Russia emails.

The Mueller report itself says:

Campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos made early contact with Joseph Mifsud, a London-based professor who had connections to Russia and traveled to Moscow in April 2016. Immediately upon his return to London from that trip, Mifsud told Papadopoulos that the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.

One week later, in the first week of May 2016, Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to candidate Clinton.

Throughout that period of time and for several months thereafter, Papadopoulos worked with Mifsud and two Russian nationals to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government. No meeting took place.

The report adds that Papadopoulos’s false statements about his meeting with Mifsud “hindered investigators’ ability to effectively question Mifsud when he was interviewed in the lobby of a Washington, D.C. hotel on February 10, 2017.”

It goes on to say that Mifsud himself made false statements to FBI investigators, denying the extent of his contacts with Papadopoulos, and denying “that he had advance knowledge that Russia was in possession of emails damaging to candidate Clinton, stating that he and Papadopoulos had discussed cybersecurity and hacking as a larger issue and that Papadopoulos must have misunderstood their conversation.”

Republicans asked Mueller several times why Mifsud had not been prosecuted for making false statements to the FBI, when others — including Papadopoulos, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort — had been.

Mueller declined to comment on that. However, given previous reports that the FBI used at least one source to infiltrate the Trump campaign, Republicans seemed to be implying that Mifsud had been spared prosecution for a reason.

Ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-CA) said in May that he believed Mifsud had ties to the U.S. State Department. As the Washington Examiner noted at the time, Nunes sent a letter to the Special Counsel detailing Mifsud’s ties to Western agencies, and included a photograph with Mifsud and British politician Boris Johnson — who became prime minister Wednesday, and who was mentioned at the hearing.

In the letter, Nunez raised the possibility that Mifsud was an intelligence risk to the U.S. and its allies, if he was indeed a Russian operative, as the Special Counsel’s report suggested. Alternatively, Nunes said, the FBI had been using Mifsud as an informant, which would explain why it knew to ask Papadopoulos about Clinton’s emails.

Attorney General William Barr is currently conducting an investigation into the origins of the investigation of the Trump campaign. Republicans are flagging Mifsud as someone Barr needs to understand in the course of that inquiry.

Republicans grilled Mueller for not charging Mifsud.
Malta academic in Trump probe has history of vanishing acts

SWIEQI, Malta (AP) — It was her last day of class and Leida Ruvina was getting suspicious. The Albanian student had just finished the first module in what was purported to be a doctoral program co-administered by Slovenia’s Euro-Mediterranean University, but the place didn’t look like much of a university.

It didn’t have a campus; the room she was sitting in had been rented from a local tourism school in the Slovenian spa town of Portoroz. She didn’t have a matriculation number, the code used by educational institutions to track students’ progress. And the French translation of “Euro-Mediterranean” in the university’s seal was misspelled.

She raised her hand to ask the university’s president what was going on. Joseph Mifsud, a paunchy middle-aged administrator with an easy manner and a graying widow’s peak, assured Ruvina that everything was in order, complimented her on her English and offered to advise her on her dissertation. “If you want, I can be your mentor,” she recalled him telling her.

Mifsud, however, was in no position to be anyone’s mentor. The Ph.D. program was bogus and Mifsud would soon be ousted in a scandal. Ruvina eventually got a refund for the two weeks she spent at the university in 2012 and began her dissertation elsewhere. Mifsud has since shot to international prominence as a lynchpin of the investigation into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and its ties to the Russian government.

A court document made public last year by U.S. prosecutors alleged that it was Mifsud who dropped the first hint of the hacking that rocked the 2016 U.S. election when he met Trump adviser George Papadopoulos on April 26, 2016, in London and told him the Kremlin had “thousands of emails” on his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.

An Associated Press investigation of Mifsud’s career has uncovered an international trail of mismanagement and financial problems stretching over a decade. It doesn’t answer the key question of whether Mifsud was acting on behalf of Russian interests — wittingly or otherwise — when he allegedly passed the tip to the Trump campaign team, but it does sketch out a bizarre academic career punctuated by scandals and disappearing acts.

When Mifsud’s name first surfaced in connection with U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Mifsud denied discussing emails with Papadopoulos or having any connection to Russia. He then fell off the map for nearly a year, leading some to speculate he might be dead .

Mifsud’s Swiss-German lawyer, Stephan Roh, has recently assured the AP that Mifsud is alive and has disputed almost all the allegations against him, saying via email that the 58-year-old hadn’t committed any crime and that the claims leveled against him are either old, unsubstantiated or consist of what he described as “defamatory departing music.”

Asked about the Albanian student’s story, for example, which the AP corroborated using contemporaneous emails, certificates and a document bearing Mifsud’s signature , Roh said her claim “seems not plausible.”

“You forget about many positive things about Prof Mifsud,” Roh said. “My suspicion is that this may be on purpose.” Roh said he last heard from his client earlier this month through an intermediary he refused to identify and last saw him face-to-face in May.

His office sent the AP a photograph of the Maltese academic, sporting three-day stubble and seated across a signed power of attorney document. The photograph also appears to show a copy of the Democratic National Committee lawsuit against Trump and the Russian government, in which Mifsud is named as a co-defendant, and the May 17 edition of Zurichsee-Zeitung, a Swiss-German newspaper.

Metadata embedded in the picture, including geographic coordinates and altitude data, suggest it was taken with an iPhone at Roh’s office in the Swiss city of Zurich on May 21. Roh said he only provided the image to prove he was Mifsud’s attorney and asked the AP not to publish it.

The cloak-and-dagger surrounding Mifsud’s whereabouts has invited all manner of dark theories, some of them nurtured by Roh himself. Earlier this year, Roh co-wrote and self-published a 284-page book speculating that both Mifsud and Papadopoulos were pawns of the Western intelligence community and had been enlisted in what Roh described as a conspiracy to create the appearance that the Trump campaign had cooperated with the Russian government.

Mifsud is hiding “under instruction of the intelligence agencies,” Roh claimed, saying that unidentified spies were trying to keep Mifsud quiet as they worked to discredit Trump. In fact, Mifsud’s vanishing act is not out of character.

The AP has documented at least three previous efforts by Mifsud to drop out of the public eye after being caught up in controversies. Laris Gaiser, a Slovenian crisis consultant who was brought in to investigate Mifsud’s tenure at the Euro-Mediterranean University, said that going off the grid is Mifsud’s modus operandi. “Disappearing for him is the most perfect way to survive,” Gaiser said.

Mifsud studied education in Italy and Northern Ireland before returning to his native Malta in the 1990s, just as the tiny Mediterranean nation was turning toward the European Union. In 2000, he was appointed general manager of the University of Malta’s European Unit, which juggled grants and foreign exchange programs, eventually becoming its director. Many of those who crossed paths with him were left unimpressed.

Matthew Caruana Galizia, the son of slain investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, was one of 15 participants at a 2006 university summer class taught in part by Mifsud. He said the academic floundered through his lecture and had “no idea what he was talking about.”

“He spent the whole time trying to impress us and was coming off as a complete charlatan,” Caruana Galizia said. One of Mifsud’s former deputies said Mifsud was a name-dropping networker focused on jockeying for funding and taking work trips abroad.

“He was hooked on travel,” said Joseph Grech, who described working for Mifsud as the most stressful experience of his life. Grech called his ex-boss a “hawwadi,” a Maltese word roughly meaning “intriguer.” “He’s in the gray zone,” said Grech. “He fits perfectly in this gray zone of Trump and hackers.”

In 2006, a new administration took office and immediately found issues with Mifsud’s management. Among other problems, officials struggled to understand how Mifsud had managed his unit’s finances, according to two former colleagues who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential university business.

An auditor from PricewaterhouseCoopers was brought in to make sense of the situation, writing Mifsud a series of questions about how the money had been spent, the ex-colleagues said.

Mifsud, who had gone on loan to Malta’s Foreign Office in the meanwhile, didn’t return repeated messages requesting clarification. Eventually, the university lost patience with the missing academic and wrote to him on Nov. 15, 2007, threatening to terminate his job. It was only the following month that Mifsud responded — to tell the university he was quitting.

Roh said the University of Malta allegations stemmed from Mifsud’s decision to refocus his work with a university in Rome, a move Roh said “was not appreciated.” He offered no comment on hints that Mifsud’s personal finances were falling into disarray around the same time. Maltese court documents show that, on April 9, 2008, the Bank of Valetta won an order garnishing Mifsud’s wages over an unpaid 1,780 euro debt.

As Mifsud burned his bridges in Malta, he was laying the foundations for a new career in Slovenia. It was in this small ex-Yugoslav republic that officials had set up the Euro-Mediterranean University , soon adopted by the 43-nation Union for the Mediterranean as the academic prong of a wider effort to foster stability, prosperity and cultural exchanges across the Mediterranean Sea. Mifsud was picked to be its first president in November 2008.

In its first few years, the lightly resourced university limped along in relative obscurity. Glossy annual reports ran more than 100 pages filled with buzzwordy aspirations of “raising awareness of multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious diversity of the Euro-Mediterranean,” but there were no full-time students and there was little education beyond summer classes.

When a new government took office in Slovenia in 2012, officials asked Gaiser, the consultant, to look into the situation. Gaiser said in a telephone interview that Mifsud’s personal accounts were indecipherable. As the university languished, its president had flown around the world, striking more than 200 cooperation agreements with universities “from Rabat to Moscow.” “He was a traveling machine,” Gaiser said.

Mifsud was forced to resign, according to both Gaiser and Abdelhamid ElZoheiry, the Euro-Mediterranean University’s current president. They said the university initially agreed to pay him through the summer as long as he produced a handover, but that never happened.

University board minutes show that Mifsud instead skipped town, saddling the institution with about 30,000 euros worth of “allegedly ineligible costs,” including telephone bills charged to the university’s Visa card. In a replay of his disappearing act at the University of Malta several years earlier, Mifsud suddenly became unreachable. The minutes said that letters from the Euro-Mediterranean University demanding an explanation for his spending — sent to addresses in London, Malta and Rome — went unanswered.

A 2013 Slovenian government report was scathing about Mifsud’s performance, saying his administration had left the university “in an unfavorable financial, personnel and organizational condition” and with “no reputation, either at home or abroad.” Roh insisted Mifsud’s expenses “may have been rightful” and emphasized that the matter never went to a trial.

In fact, EMUNI officials discussed flagging Mifsud to OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office, according to an email seen by the AP. ElZoheiry said the management board eventually calculated that it wasn’t worth pursuing Mifsud in court. “We would have spent much more than 30,000 euros in legal fees,” ElZoheiry said.

As ElZoheiry and others worked to turn their university around, Mifsud turned toward London, where he would eventually intersect with Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign aide. Mifsud was brought on to the now-defunct London Academy of Diplomacy.

It was via his Russian personal assistant there that Mifsud got in touch with the director of the Moscow Academy of Diplomacy, Evgeny Bazhanov, and Russian International Affairs Council representative Ivan Timofeev, according to a copy of the assistant’s CV still posted to LinkedIn.

In early 2016, Mifsud would introduce Papadopoulos to Timofeev and the latter two would go on to speak for months about potentially arranging a trip by candidate Trump to Moscow. Those were among the conversations that Papadopoulos tried and failed to misrepresent to the FBI, eventually earning the former campaign staffer a two week prison sentence.

Timofeev has repeatedly declined to discuss Papadopoulos when quizzed about him by the AP, but in June he told CNN that the Trump adviser was disorganized and unprofessional and that the conversations between the two went nowhere.

Roh insists that Mifsud was in touch with Sayamov into 2017. In any case, the Russian academic remembers Mifsud fondly. “If we could continue professional contacts with him, we would,” Sayamov said. “He was a communicative, pleasant person.”

The AP’s investigation into Mifsud began in August, when a reporter traveled to Malta in a vain attempt to locate the academic. Others had tried before. Last year, two separate Italian police forces failed to find Mifsud in relation to yet another university funding scandal in Sicily, according to Italian court records. Mifsud was a no-show at his trial in the Sicilian port city of Palermo, where he was last month ordered to hand back more than 49,000 euros ($56,700) in overpayments.

Maltese politicians who once smiled for pictures with Mifsud now barely seem to remember him. Roh said in his book that former associates were treating the academic “as a plague victim.” Even Mifsud’s family is saying nothing.

When the AP visited Mifsud’s old address in the Maltese town of Swieqi on Aug. 13, his wife Janet appeared at the balcony — only to retreat inside when she realized a reporter was at the door. “I have no intention of ever commenting on this matter,” she said in an email the next day. Twenty minutes later, the Mifsuds’ adult daughter, Giulia, sent the AP an almost identical message.

Janet Mifsud has filed for divorce, according to Maltese court records seen by the AP. Few details were provided and Janet’s lawyer, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, hung up when called for clarification. Roh said in his email that the couple had already been separated for “many, many years,” that they had not seen one another in a long time and that Joseph “is a single man.”

The filing did suggest Janet Mifsud hasn’t heard from her husband in a while. When the AP visited the London address the divorce court document gave for Joseph Mifsud — a brick apartment building in the capital’s prosperous Pimlico neighborhood — the man who answered the door said he had been living there for three years and had never seen or heard of the academic.

Mifsud’s disappearance contrasts with the media offensives undertaken by many others in the orbit of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference. Papadopoulos and his wife Simona Mangiante, in particular, post constantly to Twitter, alleging that Mifsud is part of a convoluted conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy — a Western intelligence asset masquerading as a Russian intelligence asset to fake evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin.

Roh makes even more unverified claims. His book describes Mifsud as being “very close” not just to Britain’s MI6 but to the Italian secret services and maybe other Western services besides. The book claims Mifsud had been taking orders from unidentified people with “strong ties to the Obama Administration” and that Papadopoulos was “most probably” a secret agent planted in the Trump campaign — a charge Papadopoulos called “fantasy.”

But there is one theory about Mifsud that Roh, who has a Russian wife and Russian business ties, is utterly unwilling to entertain. “He is certainly not a Russian spy,” Roh writes. In one email to the AP, he insisted that this story discuss Mifsud’s “clear and evidenced Western Intelligence role” and threatened legal action if Mifsud were described as “a Russian spy, asset, cut-out etc.”

Many of those who have interacted with Mifsud laugh off the idea that he could have ever been spy or an asset of any kind. Gaiser, the Slovenian consultant, said Mifsud was too incompetent to play any significant role in whatever machinations are purported to have happened between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

“I do not believe he’s the real connection to any real scandal. I’m closer to Melania Trump than he is to Putin,” Gaiser said, referring to the first lady’s Slovenian background. “If they’re trying to impeach the most important president in the world with Mifsud, then they have nothing.”

But Ruvina, the Albanian student who Mifsud once offered to mentor, isn’t so sure. She described Mifsud as a “common, greedy person” who had “the talent of not having a visible talent.” She didn’t know that Mifsud had been caught up in the U.S. special counsel’s investigation until the AP told her, but she said she wasn’t surprised at his alleged role. “It’s always the common guys that are used to play these parts,” she said.

Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese ‘professor’ formerly based in London and embroiled in the US investigation into Russian collusion in the election that saw Donald Trump rise to power, is still missing and may be dead, a US court was told.

Mifsud, 57, was named in a US lawsuit by the Democratic National Committee [DNC] which is suing Russia, the Trump campaign and Wikileaks for interfering in the 2016 election. Mifsud held meetings with George Papadopoulos, 31, a former Trump adviser who had been jailed for lying to investigators about his contacts with individuals linked to Russia.

Papadopoulos’ comments prevented the FBI from detaining the enigmatic Maltese ‘professor’ when he was traveling in the United States in 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller had said in a memo to a federal judge. Mueller was appointed a year ago to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign.

Mifsud’s name emerged in the charges against Papadopoulos, who claimed that the Maltese former diplomat told him in 2014 that the Russians were in possession of “compromising material” regarding presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. It was Papadopoulos‘ description of his interaction with Mifsud to an Australian diplomat that ultimately led the FBI to open the Russia investigation in July 2016.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October to making false statements to the special counsel’s team, becoming the first person to admit guilt to Mueller’s federal prosecutors. According to his plea agreement, he admitted to lying about the timing of his contacts with Mifsud in London.

He told investigators that Mifsud had informed him that he had “substantial connections to Russian government officials” and he had promised “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” obtained by the Russian government. But Mueller had said Papadopoulos had repeatedly denied that any interaction with the ‘professor’ before to joining the campaign team.

Papadopoulos “repeatedly lied throughout the interview in order to conceal the timing and significance of information the defendant had received regarding the Russians possessing ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, as well as his own outreach to Russia on behalf of the campaign.” His false statements were intended “to harm the investigation, and did so.”

Mifsud has gone under the radar for almost a year now with a Ukrainian woman saying she hasn’t heard from him since news on his links to Russia broke in October 2017. Mifsud deserves the ‘Mystery Professor’ monicker as his present whereabouts are as shady as his past.

While it is unknown how he acquired a professorship, with the University of Malta denying it awarded him such a title, Mifsud was investigated by the same university over alleged financial irregularities. However, Mifsud resigned from his university post before his employment was terminated.

The DNC said in its court documents that he was the only defendant who had not been served with the complaint because he was “missing and may be deceased (or killed),” The Times of London reported. Yet Mifsud’s close associate Stephan Roh, a lawyer based in Zurich, said Mifsud was safe but in hiding.

Was the shady professor a Russian spy or Western spy? Was he taken out already?