The Italian intelligence community had Joseph Mifsud “on their radar for years” due, in part, to his ownership of apartments in Malta tied to a racket involving “Russians buying Maltese passports for cheap”, according to a US news report.
The American news outlet had previously reported on a “sinister” scheme in which Russians involved in “corrosive corruption” were buying Maltese passports, explaining how this story was being investigated by Daphne Caruana Galizia prior to her assassination by a car bomb in October 2017.
“Russian millionaires, influential public officials, businessmen, private company owners, and managers of State corporations” make up the majority of Maltese passport buyers. Caruana Galizia’s reporting on this story was “particularly upsetting to Maltese authorities” who she said had received kickbacks and bribes to expedite the process, the report notes.
The Daily Beast detailed how US Attorney General William Barr travelled to Rome last week along with US Attorney John Durham to listen to a secret deposition given by Mifsud.
Mifsud had applied for police protection in Italy and had given a taped deposition to explain why he thought people wanted to harm him, according to records at the Italian Justice Ministry. He disappeared shortly after.
A number of news outlets have reported that Barr and Durham met with Italian government officials, urging them to assist in the investigation into the level of foreign interference in a counterintelligence investigation targeted at the Trump campaign during the 2016 US elections. Mifsud remains a person of significant interest, according to reports.
Robert Mueller’s 448-page report into possible Russian interference in the election showed Mifsud had travelled to Moscow in April 2016 before meeting Trump campaign manager George Papadopoulos in London.
During this meeting, the Mueller report claims that Mifsud told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “thousands of emails” – a claim Papadopolous then repeated to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer. He then informed the US government, which led to the FBI investigation into Trump’s campaign.
Papadopolous then pleaded guilty to making false statements and admitted that he lied about the timing of his contacts with Mifsud in London.
In a sentencing memo written by Mueller and sent to the US District Court in the State of Columbia, a sentence of up to six months is recommended for Mifsud’s incarceration for his part in causing damage in the US government’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign.
It has also been alleged that Mifsud is a “Western intelligence operative” placed to entrap the Trump campaign and that he introduced Papadopoulos to a Russian graduate student, who the latter believed to be Putin’s niece.
His affiliations with both the Link University of Rome and London Center of International Law Practice—both often affiliated with Western diplomacy and foreign intelligence agencies—made him an easy target, according to reports.
Mifsud previously denied telling Papadopoulos that Russians had access to Clinton’s emails, and he maintained he cooperated with Western intelligence and was not involved in Russian intelligence.
The Mueller report stated that Mifsud “had connections to Russia” and “maintained various Russian contacts” including an ex-employee of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian ‘troll farm’ alleged to have sowed discord on social media during the elections.
Prior to disappearing, Mifsud told Italian newspaper La Repubblica, “I don’t know anything. I absolutely exclude talking about secrets regarding Hillary. I swear on my daughter. I don’t know anyone at the Kremlin, the only Russian I know is Ivan Timofeev, the director of a Moscow based think-tank (the Russian International Affairs Council).”
This statement proved to be false after a photo emerged of him meeting Alexander Yakovenko, the Russian ambassador to the UK in 2014, as well as allegedly meeting the Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov. Mifsud had also given keynote speeches at the Valdai Discussion Club in the Russian city of Veliky Novgorod, which is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mifsud had once served as an aide to Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo, before becoming a full-time professional teaching fellow at a university in Rome where he remained up until his disappearance last year.
It is not known how he acquired his professorship. The University of Malta denied giving him the title and also investigated him for financial irregularities.