The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

Professor Joe Mifsud: a ‘ghost’ on the run from the Americans, Russians and Italians

Sunday, 15 July 2018, 10:00 Last update: about 5 months ago

Maltese Professor Joseph Mifsud, who has gained international notoriety for allegedly being the person who connected the Trump campaign to the Russians looking to derail Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, is not only on the run from the Americans, Russians and the press, but also from the Italian judicial authorities, who have been unable to track down the wayward academic.

This week, in fact, Mifsud was a no-show in the courts of Palermo, where he was to answer to charges, along with two others, of having unjustifiably inflated salaries at a university consortium in Agrigento, Sicily, which he presided almost a decade ago.

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At a hearing in Palermo, Italy, Joseph Mifsud was described as “a ghost” after neither he nor his lawyers turned up in court on Wednesday.

Sicilian prosecutors described Mifsud as a “peculiar subject” and said that all attempts to reach and notify the professor about the hearing had proved futile.

Mifsud’s role in the ongoing American investigation into Russia’s role in the last US election has nothing to do with the Sicilian university case, but the common denominator is that no one can find Mifsud.

After his failure to present himself in court this week, Mifsud has waived his right to defend himself and a verdict will be reached in absentia.

During the court case, Italian prosecutors described how they sought out Mifsud in January of last year at his last known address in Rome, but there was no one at the address, the residence’s doorbell did not bear Mifsud’s name, and neighbours told a judiciary official that they had never seen the professor.

“The subject is not known. There are no apparent signs of his presence," the judiciary official's report, read out in court, said.

A second attempt to find Mifsud had taken place in July 2017 but officers were again unable to find the professor.

BuzzFeed News reported sources at the court saying that they had also attempted to find Mifsud at the university in Rome where he was listed as leading a course in international relations.

The court was told that Mifsud disappeared after giving an interview to Italian newspaper La Repubblica published on 1 November, 2017.

It has long been suggested in court documents filed by United States Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, by US Democrats and by the media that Maltese Professor Joseph Mifsud was connected to Russian intelligence.

But that assumption – that Mifsud was working on behalf of the Kremlin and contacted Donald Trump’s campaign team to tell them about hacked Hillary Clinton emails – has come under fresh scrutiny.

Former US federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy recently said in a televised interview that, “The fishiest parts of the story are: Is Mifsud really a Russian agent?”

US court documents from the special counsel’s office refer to Mifsud as “an overseas professor” with “substantial connections to Russian government officials”.

The Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, in their report on Russia’s attempted interference in the election released in April, described Mifsud as being “Kremlin-linked”.

However, Mifsud also had Western ties at academic institutions like the Link Campus University in Rome, the University of Stirling in Scotland, the London Academy of Diplomacy and the London Centre for International Law Practice.

If Mifsud was not working for Russia, why did he approach then-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos in April 2016 saying that the Russians had “dirt” that could damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Papadopoulos then met Australian diplomat Alexander Downer over drinks in London, and told him about his conversations with Mifsud. Downer apparently then passed on the information to US officials, which led to the FBI opening its Russia investigation during the 2016 election. 

Mifsud has all but vanished from the public eye since his name surfaced in stories about the Russia investigation.

McCarthy also floated the possibility that Mifsud is little more than a “Maltese academic who had no real Kremlin ties and no inside information about whether Russia actually possessed damaging information about Clinton, in the form of emails or otherwise”.

Whatever the case, Mifsud has become an important figure in Mueller’s probe.

Papadopoulos, who was 28 when he worked on the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Mifsud. 

A February memo released by the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee said the intelligence passed on by the Australians about the diplomat’s meeting with Papadopoulos “triggered the opening of an FBI counterintelligence investigation in late July 2016 by FBI agent Pete Strzok”. 

But Simona Manganite Papadopoulos, the wife of the former Trump aide, told Fox News this week that the discussion with Mifsud was little more than a "gossip conversation". She openly appealed to President Trump for a pardon if her husband faces prison. 

These new questions about Mifsud come as Trump draws attention to reports that the FBI used another individual as a confidential informant in connection with the Russia case. The informant met several campaign officials, including Papadopoulos, during the 2016 race.

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