Exclusive – The Maltese professor involved in the Russiagate investigation secretly lived in a flat in Rome for seven months. The rent was paid by Link Campus, the Five Star Movement's favourite university
The Russiagate investigation has ended, but Russiagate is not over. According to the conclusions of the investigation led by special prosecutor Robert Mueller, there was no collusion between Russia and Donald Trump. But many aspects of the story remain unclear. Mueller's report has not been published yet (it should be today), and it could reveal more details about Russia's interference in the US presidential campaign. Trump has instead called for the prosecutors to be investigated (who allegedly plotted against him).
One of the key turning points in the investigation happened in Italy. It is no coincidence that US Senator Lindsay Graham, one of Trump's closest allies and one of the leading critics of Mueller's investigation, has been visiting Rome over the last few days. There are many unanswered questions, one of the most important being: where is Joseph Mifsud? Il Foglio does not know, but it can reveal where he hid for seven months after disappearing: in Rome, in a rented flat paid by Link Campus University. Mifsud taught there, and Il Foglio understands that he owns 35 per cent of Link International, which Link Campus owns 55 per cent of (the remaining 10 per cent is owned by Roberto Lippi, domiciled in Bogotà, Colombia).
Who is Mifsud and why is he so important? Mifsud was a Maltese lecturer at Link Campus, the university where Italian Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio introduced the Five Star Movement's foreign policy manifesto. The Five Star Movement recruited two of its senior staff from among Link's lecturers: Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta and Deputy Foreign Minister Emanuela Del Re.
Mifsud is a central player in Russiagate. According to Mueller's investigation, Mifsud is “The Professor” who informed Trump's campaign manager at the time, George Papadopoulos, about the “thousands of emails” revealing dirt on Hillary Clinton that had come into Russian hands. This happened in April 2016, long before the Democrats discovered that their system had been hacked. Mifsud introduced Papadopoulos to figures close to Vladimir Putin, such as Ivan Timofeev, a member of the Russian International Affairs Council (a think tank founded by the Kremlin). Link Campus, the university founded by former Italian Minister of Home Affairs Vincenzo Scotti is a crucial place in this spy story, which resembles a Le Carré novel.
Mifsud and Papadopoulos met for the first time at Link Campus on 14 March 2016. On 31 October 2017, when the documents in the investigation file were made public, Mifsud was at Link Campus coordinating joint projects between the Italian university and the Lomonosov University in Moscow. Mifsud disappeared the day after and has not answered emails or phone calls since. His name has also disappeared from the website of the organisations he has been affiliated with. He is currently being sought by the Americans, the Russians and an Italian court. But nobody knows where Mifsud actually is. Link Campus might know but is unwilling to say. Mifsud lived in an apartment in Rome, in Via Cimarosa 3, owned by a Greek diplomat, and the rent was paid by Link Campus. Il Foglio spoke with several of Mifsud's former neighbours and understands that he moved in when he went underground. The rental contract expired last July or August and was registered to “Link International”: a company co-owned by Link Campus, with 30 employees and no financial statements available.
These new elements refute previous claims by Link Campus regarding its relationship with the Maltese academic. The university has repeatedly said that its relationship with “The Professor” was suspended in 2008 and resumed later when he was given the position of “visiting professor for 2017–2018”. Mifsud never actually held any lectures because his contract was terminated when the scandal came to light, and all contact with the university ended after November 2017.
“The university has no information on his whereabouts”, said Scotti. This assertion is incomplete, to put it mildly. Il Foglio's investigation last 11 April had already traced Mifsud's pivotal role in creating Link's international network. Mifsud coordinated a partnership between Link Campus and the Essam & Dalai Obaid Foundation (Edof), a foundation linked to the Saudi royal house, which gave birth to the Center for War and Peace Studies (it eventually shut down). Mifsud found a new shareholder, Stephan Roh, the owner Drake Global Ltd, who bought 5 per cent of the university. Finally, the Maltese academic spearheaded the agreement between Link Campus and Lomonosov Moscow State University (“the most important state-owned university in Russia”). Mifsud attended the ceremony for the signing, alongside Scotti and former Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini (who is also a lecturer at Link Campus). We now also know that Mifsud is one of Link Campus’ business partners and lived in a flat paid by the university – all the while being sought after by an Italian court.
Mifsud (al centro) alla Link durante la summer school in collaborazione con l’Università di Mosca
This version of events was confirmed by Link Campus. They initially said that our articles from April 2018 and 11 March 2019 “suggest to the reader that Link Campus played a role in these political scandals due to the academic relationship with Prof. Joseph Mifsud. This undermines the reputation of our university”. Vanna Fadini, president of the company that runs the university (GEM) confirmed that “when Mifsud was in Rome, we provided him with accommodation, as we generally do for our international staff”. According to Ms Fadini, a flat is a benefit granted to all 14 non-Italian lecturers at Link Campus. Fadini added that “the flat rental ended in January 2018, and the flat was returned to the owners after the usual six months required by law”. When asked about the meetings and exchanges with Mifsud regarding the flat, Fadini answered that “all the procedures to end the rental and return the flat were completed by our legal office transparently. We duly notified by email, to all the addresses he provided us. When we returned the flat, we found no personal items or documents of his”.
As to Mifsud being a shareholder of Link International (which Fadini happens to be the administrator of), she said that “Mifsud has carried out his work (with Link) at different times and in different ways, including through his being a shareholder in a company, Link International, whose purpose is to search for international students”. There are some peculiarities in this account. The number of employees at Link International is very high: 32 people work there, which is more than half the total number of employees at the university (59). This figure seems somewhat exaggerated when we consider that Link Campus enrols 300 students every year, according to the Department of Education. If we assume that 10 per cent of students are international (this percentage is way beyond the average at Italian universities), this means that Link International employs a staff member for every single foreign student enrolled. The second peculiarity is that Link International has never filed financial statements, according to the Italian Companies House. The third anomaly is that a purely academic activity such as selecting international students is outsourced to a company co-owned by private individuals such as Mifsud and the shareholder from Bogotà.
If this is considered normal, then the question is: why did Link hide its relationship with Mifsud, pretending that it barely even knew him? Mrs Fadini replied saying that “contrary to what you are saying, the university did not hide anything regarding its relationship with Mr Mifsud. I also think that the reputation of the university should not be damaged by its association with Mifsud on the basis of his alleged relationship with third parties that have nothing to do with the academic activities of the university or its research”. On this issue, we disagree. Mifsud was introduced to George Papadopoulos at Link Campus, the university where he taught. They met again in London in the following weeks, when Mifsud was accompanied by a young student from Link Campus introduced as “Putin’s niece”. When the scandal erupted, Mifsud went underground and for several months lived in an flat paid by a company co-owned by Link and Mifsud himself. The name of the university keeps re-surfacing, and the answers provided by its senior staff are too vague to safely assert that it has nothing to do with this international intrigue.
Moreover, another witness sheds light on this story. The book “The Faking of Russia-gate” is co-written by Swiss lawyer Stephan Roh, who owns 5 per cent of GEM (the company which manages Link Campus) and is Mifsud’s lawyer. Roh writes that he spoke to Mifsud over the phone on the “advice of the professor’s friends” on 13 January 2018, while visiting Link's main campus in Casale San Pio V, in Rome. In a conversation-interview reported in the book, Mifsud rejects all the accusations. When asked about why he disappeared, Mifsud said that “the head of the Italian secret services contacted the president of Link Campus, Vincenzo Scotti, and recommended that the Professor shall disappear and stay for some time in a safe location”. The authors write that the “Professor and his friends feared for his life”. It is unclear why the Italian secret services hid Mifsud and why they asked for Scotti's help. Everyone can make their own speculations. But the important issue is that, according to a Link shareholder, who also happens to be Mifsud's lawyer, the university played an active role in the disappearance of the Maltese professor, as part of an operation that has more to do with secret services than with academia.
Nobody knows where Mifsud currently is, and many suspect he is no longer alive. The last time anyone saw him was last May, according to the Associated Press, which was sent a photo of Mifsud by his lawyers. There has been no news since. The Italian government should probably be more transparent about an international spy story that has disrupted an allied country such as the US. Clarification should come from Defence Minister Elisabetta Trenta and Deputy Foreign Minister Emanuela Del Re, who come from Link Campus. Ever since the scandal broke out and Mifsud disappeared, all roads lead to the university in Rome. Whoever wants to solve the Russiagate enigma – whether they believe that Mifsud plotted with the Russians to help Trump or that he conspired with Western intelligence services to weaken Trump – should look for evidence at Link Campus, the small university presided over by Vincenzo Scotti.