AP investigation on Joseph Mifsud trail after ‘disappearing act’ learns he’s alive

Reading Time: 6 minutesJoseph Mifsud.png

 

An Associated Press investigation of Mifsud’s career led to Mifsud’s Swiss-German lawyer, Stephan Roh, say 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.”

The story was worked on by Raphael Satter with Angela Charlton in Moscow and Chris Mangion in Malta.

Roh’s  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 AP investigation “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 .

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.

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.

Laris Gaiser said that 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.”

Matthew Caruana Galizia, the son of brutally murdered 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.”

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.  Even Mifsud’s family is saying nothing. 

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.

Mifsud’s vanishing act is not out of character. The AP, in its story says that it 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.

 

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