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SWIEQI, Malta (AP) — It was her final day of class and Leida Ruvina was getting suspicious.
The Albanian scholar had simply completed the primary module in what was presupposed to be a doctoral program co-administered by Slovenia’s Euro-Mediterranean College, however the place didn’t appear to be a lot of a college.
It didn’t have a campus; the room she was sitting in had been rented from an area tourism faculty in the Slovenian spa city of Portoroz. She didn’t have a matriculation quantity, the code utilized by instructional establishments to trace college students’ progress. And the French translation of “Euro-Mediterranean” in the college’s seal was misspelled.
She raised her hand to ask the college’s president what was happening. Joseph Mifsud, a paunchy middle-aged administrator with a simple method and a graying widow’s peak, assured Ruvina that every part was in order, complimented her on her English and provided to advise her on her dissertation.
“If you want, I can be your mentor,” she recalled him telling her.
Mifsud, nevertheless, was in no place to be anybody’s mentor. The Ph.D. program was bogus and Mifsud would quickly be ousted in a scandal.
Ruvina ultimately acquired a refund for the 2 weeks she spent on the college in 2012 and commenced her dissertation elsewhere. Mifsud has since shot to worldwide prominence as a lynchpin of the investigation into Donald Trump’s presidential marketing campaign and its ties to the Russian authorities.
A courtroom doc made public final yr by U.S. prosecutors alleged that it was Mifsud who dropped the primary trace of the hacking that rocked the 2016 U.S. election when he met Trump adviser George Papadopoulos on April 26, 2016, in London and informed him the Kremlin had “thousands of emails” on his Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton.
An Related Press investigation of Mifsud’s profession has uncovered a world path of mismanagement and monetary issues stretching over a decade. It doesn’t reply the important thing query of whether or not Mifsud was appearing on behalf of Russian pursuits — wittingly or in any other case — when he allegedly handed the tip to the Trump marketing campaign group, however it does sketch out a weird academic profession punctuated by scandals and disappearing acts.
When Mifsud’s identify first surfaced in reference to U.S. particular 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 almost a yr, main some to take a position he may be lifeless .
Mifsud’s Swiss-German lawyer, Stephan Roh, has just lately assured the AP that Mifsud is alive and has disputed virtually all of the allegations towards him, saying by way of e mail that the 58-year-old hadn’t dedicated any crime and that the claims leveled towards him are both previous, unsubstantiated or consist of what he described as “defamatory departing music.”
Requested concerning the Albanian scholar’s story, for instance, which the AP corroborated utilizing contemporaneous emails, certificates and a doc bearing Mifsud’s signature , Roh stated her declare “seems not plausible.”
“You forget about many positive things about Prof Mifsud,” Roh stated. “My suspicion is that this may be on purpose.”
Roh stated he final heard from his shopper earlier this month via an middleman he refused to determine and final noticed him face-to-face in Might.
His workplace despatched the AP a photograph of the Maltese academic, sporting three-day stubble and seated throughout a signed energy of lawyer doc. The photograph additionally seems to point out a replica of the Democratic Nationwide Committee lawsuit towards Trump and the Russian authorities, in which Mifsud is known as as a co-defendant, and the Might 17 version of Zurichsee-Zeitung, a Swiss-German newspaper. Metadata embedded in the image, together with geographic coordinates and altitude knowledge, recommend it was taken with an iPhone at Roh’s workplace in the Swiss metropolis of Zurich on Might 21. Roh stated he solely offered the picture to show he was Mifsud’s lawyer and requested the AP to not publish it.
The cloak-and-dagger surrounding Mifsud’s whereabouts has invited all method of darkish theories, some of them nurtured by Roh himself. Earlier this yr, Roh co-wrote and self-published a 284-page ebook speculating that each Mifsud and Papadopoulos have been pawns of the Western intelligence group and had been enlisted in what Roh described as a conspiracy to create the looks that the Trump marketing campaign had cooperated with the Russian authorities.
Mifsud is hiding “under instruction of the intelligence agencies,” Roh claimed, saying that unidentified spies have been making an attempt to maintain Mifsud quiet as they labored to discredit Trump.
The truth is, Mifsud’s vanishing act isn’t out of character.
The AP has documented at the least three earlier efforts by Mifsud to drop out of the general public eye after being caught up in controversies. Laris Gaiser, a Slovenian disaster marketing consultant who was introduced in to research Mifsud’s tenure on the Euro-Mediterranean College, stated that going off the grid is Mifsud’s modus operandi.
“Disappearing for him is the most perfect way to survive,” Gaiser stated.
Mifsud studied schooling in Italy and Northern Eire earlier than returning to his native Malta in the 1990s, simply because the tiny Mediterranean nation was turning towards the European Union. In 2000, he was appointed common supervisor of the College of Malta’s European Unit, which juggled grants and overseas change packages, ultimately turning into its director.
Many of those that crossed paths with him have been left unimpressed.
Matthew Caruana Galizia, the son of slain investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, was one of 15 members at a 2006 college summer time class taught in half by Mifsud. He stated the academic floundered via 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 stated.
One of Mifsud’s former deputies stated Mifsud was a name-dropping networker targeted on jockeying for funding and taking work journeys overseas.
“He was hooked on travel,” stated Joseph Grech, who described working for Mifsud as probably the most aggravating expertise of his life.
Grech referred to as his ex-boss a “hawwadi,” a Maltese phrase roughly which means “intriguer.”
“He’s in the gray zone,” stated Grech. “He fits perfectly in this gray zone of Trump and hackers.”
In 2006, a brand new administration took workplace and instantly discovered points with Mifsud’s administration. Amongst different issues, officers struggled to know how Mifsud had managed his unit’s funds, in accordance with two former colleagues who spoke on situation of anonymity to debate confidential college enterprise.
An auditor from PricewaterhouseCoopers was introduced in to make sense of the state of affairs, writing Mifsud a collection of questions on how the cash had been spent, the ex-colleagues stated.
Mifsud, who had gone on mortgage to Malta’s Overseas Workplace in the in the meantime, didn’t return repeated messages requesting clarification. Ultimately, the college misplaced endurance with the lacking academic and wrote to him on Nov. 15, 2007, threatening to terminate his job.
It was solely the next month that Mifsud responded — to inform the college he was quitting.
Roh stated the College of Malta allegations stemmed from Mifsud’s choice to refocus his work with a college in Rome, a transfer Roh stated “was not appreciated.” He provided no touch upon hints that Mifsud’s private funds have been falling into disarray across the similar time. Maltese courtroom paperwork present that, on April 9, 2008, the Financial institution of Valetta gained 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 brand new profession in Slovenia.
It was in this small ex-Yugoslav republic that officers had arrange the Euro-Mediterranean College , quickly adopted by the 43-nation Union for the Mediterranean because the academic prong of a wider effort to foster stability, prosperity and cultural exchanges throughout the Mediterranean Sea. Mifsud was picked to be its first president in November 2008.
In its first few years, the calmly resourced college limped alongside in relative obscurity. Shiny annual reviews ran greater than 100 pages full of buzzwordy aspirations of “raising awareness of multiethnic, multicultural and multi-religious diversity of the Euro-Mediterranean,” however there have been no full-time college students and there was little schooling past summer time courses.
When a brand new authorities took workplace in Slovenia in 2012, officers requested Gaiser, the marketing consultant, to look into the state of affairs. Gaiser stated in a phone interview that Mifsud’s private accounts have been indecipherable. Because the college languished, its president had flown all over the world, hanging greater than 200 cooperation agreements with universities “from Rabat to Moscow.”
“He was a traveling machine,” Gaiser stated.
Mifsud was pressured to resign, in response to each Gaiser and Abdelhamid ElZoheiry, the Euro-Mediterranean College’s present president. They stated the college initially agreed to pay him via the summer time so long as he produced a handover, however that by no means occurred.
College board minutes present that Mifsud as an alternative skipped city, saddling the establishment with about 30,000 euros value of “allegedly ineligible costs,” together with phone payments charged to the college’s Visa card. In a replay of his disappearing act on the College of Malta a number of years earlier, Mifsud instantly turned unreachable. The minutes stated that letters from the Euro-Mediterranean College demanding an evidence for his spending — despatched to addresses in London, Malta and Rome — went unanswered.
A 2013 Slovenian authorities report was scathing about Mifsud’s efficiency, saying his administration had left the college “in an unfavorable financial, personnel and organizational condition” and with “no reputation, either at home or abroad.”
Roh insisted Mifsud’s bills “may have been rightful” and emphasised that the matter by no means went to a trial.
In truth, EMUNI officers mentioned flagging Mifsud to OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Workplace, in line with an e-mail seen by the AP. ElZoheiry stated the administration board ultimately calculated that it wasn’t value pursuing Mifsud in courtroom.
“We would have spent much more than 30,000 euros in legal fees,” ElZoheiry stated.
As ElZoheiry and others labored to show their college round, Mifsud turned towards London, the place he would ultimately intersect with Papadopoulos, the Trump marketing campaign aide.
Mifsud was introduced on to the now-defunct London Academy of Diplomacy. It was by way of his Russian private assistant there that Mifsud acquired in contact with the director of the Moscow Academy of Diplomacy, Evgeny Bazhanov, and Russian Worldwide Affairs Council consultant Ivan Timofeev, in accordance with a replica of the assistant’s CV nonetheless posted to LinkedIn.
In early 2016, Mifsud would introduce Papadopoulos to Timofeev and the latter two would go on to talk for months about probably arranging a visit by candidate Trump to Moscow. These have been among the many conversations that Papadopoulos tried and did not misrepresent to the FBI, ultimately incomes the previous marketing campaign staffer a two week jail sentence .
Timofeev has repeatedly declined to debate Papadopoulos when quizzed about him by the AP, however in June he informed CNN that the Trump adviser was disorganized and unprofessional and that the conversations between the 2 went nowhere.
Mifsud doesn’t seem to have behaved any extra professionally in Russia himself.
He vanished with out rationalization from a enterprise he helped arrange between Moscow State College and one other college in Rome in late 2016, in response to Moscow State academic Yury Sayamov, who stated that e-mail addresses for Mifsud and his deputies on the London Academy of Diplomacy instantly stopped working and telephone calls went unanswered.
Roh insists that Mifsud was in contact with Sayamov into 2017. In any case, the Russian academic remembers Mifsud fondly.
“If we could continue professional contacts with him, we would,” Sayamov stated. “He was a communicative, pleasant person.”
The AP’s investigation into Mifsud started in August, when a reporter traveled to Malta in a useless try and find the academic.
Others had tried earlier than. Final yr, two separate Italian police forces failed to seek out Mifsud in relation to yet one more college funding scandal in Sicily, based on Italian courtroom data . Mifsud was a no-show at his trial in the Sicilian port metropolis of Palermo, the place he was final month ordered handy again greater than 49,000 euros ($56,700) in overpayments.
Maltese politicians who as soon as smiled for footage with Mifsud now barely appear to recollect him. Roh stated in his e-book that former associates have been treating the academic “as a plague victim.”
Even Mifsud’s household is saying nothing.
When the AP visited Mifsud’s previous tackle in the Maltese city of Swieqi on Aug. 13, his spouse Janet appeared on the balcony — solely to retreat inside when she realized a reporter was on the door.
“I have no intention of ever commenting on this matter,” she stated in an e mail the subsequent day. Twenty minutes later, the Mifsuds’ grownup daughter, Giulia, despatched the AP an virtually equivalent message.
Janet Mifsud has filed for divorce, in accordance with Maltese courtroom data seen by the AP. Few particulars have been offered and Janet’s lawyer, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, hung up when referred to as for clarification. Roh stated in his e-mail that the couple had already been separated for “many, many years,” that that they had not seen each other in a very long time and that Joseph “is a single man.”
The submitting did recommend Janet Mifsud hasn’t heard from her husband in some time. When the AP visited the London tackle the divorce courtroom doc gave for Joseph Mifsud — a brick condo constructing in the capital’s affluent Pimlico neighborhood — the person who answered the door stated he had been dwelling there for 3 years and had by no means seen or heard of the academic.
Mifsud’s disappearance contrasts with the media offensives undertaken by many others in the orbit of the particular counsel’s investigation into Russian interference. Papadopoulos and his spouse Simona Mangiante, in specific, submit continuously to Twitter, alleging that Mifsud is a component of a convoluted conspiracy-within-a-conspiracy — a Western intelligence asset masquerading as a Russian intelligence asset to pretend proof that the Trump marketing campaign colluded with the Kremlin.
Roh makes much more unverified claims. His ebook describes Mifsud as being “very close” not simply to Britain’s MI6 however to the Italian secret providers and perhaps different Western providers in addition to. The guide claims Mifsud had been taking orders from unidentified individuals with “strong ties to the Obama Administration” and that Papadopoulos was “most probably” a undercover agent planted in the Trump marketing campaign — a cost Papadopoulos referred to as “fantasy.”
However there’s one concept about Mifsud that Roh, who has a Russian spouse and Russian enterprise ties, is completely unwilling to entertain.
“He is certainly not a Russian spy,” Roh writes. In a single e-mail to the AP, he insisted that this story talk about Mifsud’s “clear and evidenced Western Intelligence role” and threatened authorized motion if Mifsud have been described as “a Russian spy, asset, cut-out etc.”
Many of those that have interacted with Mifsud chuckle off the concept he might have ever been spy or an asset of any variety.
Gaiser, the Slovenian advisor, stated Mifsud was too incompetent to play any vital position in no matter machinations are presupposed to have occurred between the Trump marketing campaign and the Russian authorities.
“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 stated, referring to the primary woman’s Slovenian background. “If they’re trying to impeach the most important president in the world with Mifsud, then they have nothing.”
However Ruvina, the Albanian scholar who Mifsud as soon as provided to mentor, isn’t so positive.
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. particular counsel’s investigation till the AP advised her, however she stated she wasn’t stunned at his alleged position.
“It’s always the common guys that are used to play these parts,” she stated.
Angela Charlton in Moscow and Chris Mangion in Malta contributed to this report.
Paperwork obtained by AP about Joseph Mifsud: https://www.documentcloud.org/public/search/projectid:37821-Joseph-Mifsud
Raphael Satter is reachable at: http://raphaelsatter.com