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ADNKRONOS EXCLUSIVE - Russiagate: the truth about the spy story

10 novembre 2019 | 21.58
LETTURA: 21 minuti

by special envoy Marco Liconti

Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud, who is at the centre of Russiagate - the alleged collusion between Moscow and US president Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign team - was abducted and forced into hiding by a top Italian intelligence office official because he could “compromise” the Mueller inquiry, Mifsud’s lawyer has told Adnkronos in an exclusive interview. "I think Mifsud is still alive, he was at least until last Spring. I know he was hiding because he feared for his life, I also know that someone forced him to hide. Mifsud had to disappear, because he could compromise the whole investigation of Mueller against Trump", said Stephan Roh.

THE MEETING WITH STEPHAN ROH - Roh has represented Mifsud since May 2018. Adnkronos met him in his office in Zurich, a stone’s throw from the central Bahnhofstrasse, the shopping street and Paradeplatz, the heart of the city’s banking centre. In an extended interview, Roh reconstructed his version of events (and that of Mifsud) on Russiagate. Roh’s account chimes with what has just been reported in Maurizio Belpietro’s newspaper La Verita (Truth).

THE LINK CHIEFS - We asked the heads of the Link Campus University (formerly Link Campus – University of Malta) to clarify every detail of Roh's new and as-yet unsubstantiated revelations. The university’s bosses received us in their offices in Rome and provided us with papers and emails. Former cabinet minister Vincenzo Scotti, president of Link, was also present. This is the secret story of Russiagate, told by those directly involved.

THE TAPE AND THE TRANSCRIPTION - Before comparing the two contrasting versions of events received by Adnkronos, is should be recalled that it was the Swiss lawyer by his own admission who delivered to the prosecutor John Durham (charged by attorney general William Barr with 'investigating the Russiagate investigation') the famous tape containing Mifsud’s deposition in which he would state "many things". Along with the tape, he delivered a transcription of the declarations recorded by Mifsud at the elegant law firm in May last year, over three days, during the Spring bank holiday. A part of this transcript, given by Roh to Adnkronos, is being published. "That's when I was engaged by Mifsud," says Roh. But Mifsud also revealed other things, with the recorder turned off, according to Roh. "He was devastated, a completely different man from the one I had known. He feared for his life," Roh said.

Mifsud arrived in Zurich by train, from Italy, Roh told Adnkronos. "We then took him to catch a train back to Italy," he said. The delivery of the audio recording to prosecutor Durham, says Roh, took place on 26 July this year. The tape and transcription were allegedly delivered by Roh to the US Senate on 30 July, and on 1 August to the House of Representatives, specifically to Republican MP David Nunes. In addition to Durham, Roh told Adnkronos that he also spoke with “several US Congressmen".

THE JOURNEY TO ITALY - As is now known, the counter-investigation conducted by Durham on behalf of Barr, and which also has among its objectives that of clarifying the role of Mifsud, brought the attorney general and the Connecticut lawyer to Italy twice - on August 15th and September 27th. This was confirmed by the Italian parliament’s security committee Copasir and publicly by Italy’s premier Giuseppe Conte.

"Durham listened to that recording in Italy. The recording required explanations from the Italians," says Roh –a claim that Italy’s intelligence services categorically denied to Adnkronos.

"The Americans did not make us listen to anything," secret services sources said.

THE QUESTIONING OF ROH - In a case where journalism risks being derailed by official truths, half-truths, denials and fanciful reconstructions, Mifsud and Roh have come under scrutiny. Some journalists have linked the Swiss lawyer to oligarchs and Russian interests – allegations Roh denies. “The only intimate connection I have to Russia is my wife, who is Russian," he told Adnkronos.

What is certain is that Roh was also questioned "for hours" in October 2017, during a trip to the United States, by investigators who were part of the team of special prosecutor Robert Mueller, head of the Russiagate investigation. "But they didn't ask me any questions about Mifsud," Roh recalled. This is also recounted in the book that Roh published at his own expense to tell his version of Russiagate: ‘The faking of Russiagate - the Papadopoulos case’. Its back cover reads: "This book is about the greatest political scandal of our times. It tells the story of US President Barack Obama's struggle and Hillary Clinton's Democratic presidential campaign against Donald Trump. It is the story of how the US government has manipulated the democratic electoral process.” In short, Roh's point of view on Russiagate is clear.

THE 'BID' TO TAKE OVER THE LINK - In his book, Roh describes himself as ‘head of ILS Energy, IILS Publishing, of the Roh Law Firm, and of R&B Investment Group". The group’s investment areas include higher education. Adnkronos gathered detailed evidence from sources at the Rome-based Link Campus University to which Mifsud is linked, who believe that Roh, who has a 5% stake in Link’s management company Global Education Management srl, aims to play up the alleged Italian ramifications of Russiagate in a bid to take control of the university founded and chaired by Vincenzo Scotti. Link’s chiefs told Adnkronos that Roh’s entry into GEM took place under specific conditions based on an agreement that expired at the end of 2016, and which the agency has seen. Under the accord, Roh was sold 5% of GEM's shares at a cut-rate price of 250,000 euros. In return, Roh undertook to find international investors for the university - who have never materialized. For this reason, GEM asked Roh to return its shares at the original price – something he has so far refused to do.

TIES BETWEEN ROH AND MIFSUD - But let's go back to Roh and his account to Adnkronos at the Zurich law firm located halfway between the central station and the big lake. "From the long discussion with Durham on the phone I had the impression that he was not bothered by what he had gathered in his investigation, including in Italy,” he said. On the question of what may have become of Mifsud, Roh said he raised this with Durham. "I asked him if he had met him (Mifsud) in Italy. He replied that even if he had met him, he wouldn't have told me,” Roh said. “But talking to Durham I got the idea that Joseph is still alive. I really hope so. I think his movements are more restricted now - he cannot communicate as before. I also believe that he (Durham) is of the idea that Mifsud is not a Russian agent.”

Mifsud was certainly alive this Spring, Roh claimed. "I had indirect contact with him through his family. Also in the Spring, a friend of his had direct contact with him and told me he was in Italy, in Rome. Personally, the last direct contact I had with him was at the end of last year ". Roh and Mifsud first met on the conference circuit, Roh told Adnkronos. "We are described as business partners, but that's not true. I first got to know Mifsud several years ago, at a conference in Bahrain. In 2006 he invited me to Rome to attend a conference at the Italian Senate, but I didn't go". Roh and Mifsud’s paths crossed again in 2014, Roh recalled. "I met him (Mifsud) at a conference at the London Academy of Diplomacy (where Mifsud taught) and there I also met several British intelligence figures".

ROH'S FIRST VISIT TO LINK - Also in 2014, at Mifsud's invitation, Roh said made his first visit to Link, at its old headquarters in Rome’s Via Nomentana – a claim corroborated by Link’s director-general Pasquale Russo in comments to Adnkronos.

"At the end of 2015, Mifsud told me to come to Link University, where he had previously invited me. They showed me the Casale (the current seat of the university, in via del Casale of S. Pio V in Rome, ed),” said Roh. This account was also confirmed by Link. "There was a great potential for development. They needed money, but also contacts in Moscow. They wanted to enter into an agreement with the Lomonosov State University in Moscow, I thought it was a brilliant idea," Roh said. "Professor Mifsud made journeys on his own in which he tried to propose agreements with other universities, because it was in our interest to bring other foreign students here, as is in the interest of all universities,” Russo told Adnkronos. “At that time he suggested an agreement with the London School of Economics, one with Stirling University, where he worked, and other accords, including the one with Lomonosov – they all went ahead,” he said. Mifsud also made such agreements with other unversities he worked with, Russo said. “Mifsud worked for many other universities," Russo said.

THE TRIPS TO RUSSIA - As part of efforts towards cooperation agreements with Lomonosov and "other institutions", Roh and Mifsud “made several trips to Russia” between 2016 and 2017 on Scotti’s instructions and under his supervision,” Roh said. Mifsud "was lost, he had no real high-level contacts," Roh said. To back up his claim that Scotti provided the contacts with Lomonosov “and other international institutions” and pulled the strings, Roh provided several print-outs of emails between Scotti, him and Mifsud, and other Link bosses. One email dated December 20, 2016 and sent by Scotti to Mifsud and Roh reads as follows: "Dear friends, last night I met in Rome the Italian ambassador in Moscow, Ragaglini, former Italian representative at the United Nations. We talked about the agreement between Link and Lomonosov. He confirmed his keen interest and that of Italy. He invited me to be his guest in Moscow and would be interested in talking to you because he would like, among other things, to organize a meeting (dinner) in the embassy with representatives from Lomonosov, the Russian authorities and us when you are in Moscow. Ragaglini is a person of great experience, personality and prestige. He is also my friend and from the university. He has worked in all venues for dialogue with Moscow. Let me know what you think. Enzo". Mifsud had contacts in academia, something that Roh apparently lacked, Russo told Adnkronos when asked to comment. “Roh has never been one of our 'ambassadors’. It was Mifsud that had academic ties, we are not aware that Roh had any. If Mifsud was ‘lost’ in Moscow and had no senior contacts, as Roh maintains, in Italian circles he was apparently very well connected, " Russo stated.

WHO IS MIFSUD? -Taking the story forward, two questions inevitably arise. The first: who is Joseph Mifsud really? Is he a "Russian agent", as former FBI director James Comey described him in an article in the Washington Post? According to the Mueller Report on Russiagate, it was Mifsud himself who, after approaching him in Rome in March 2016 at Link University, offered George Papadopoulos, a disgraced former advisor to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign “dirt” on Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, in the form of thousands of hacked emails held by the Russians. Mifsud is therefore a 'pawn' in an alleged plot against Trump to sway the 2016 US vote. Trump himself claimed the 2016 vote was “corrupt”, adding that the corruption could lead "up to (former US president Barack) Obama" and that Italy "could" be involved).

WHY IS HE HIDING? - The second question is: why is Mifsud in hiding? Here Roh’s reconstruction of events can only be partially verfied. Roh’s principle assertion is that Mifsud is not a Russian agent, but works – or has worked - for Western intelligence services. "He was engaged in 'missions'," says Roh. He specifically mentions the British MI6 secret service to which Roh claims Mifsud was directly linked through the London Center of International Law Practice, for which he worked. The LCILP, for which Papadopoulos also worked, is mentioned in the Mueller Report. Papadopoulos, in his book 'Deep State Target', claims to have been the victim of an anti-Trump plot, and mentions the LCILP and his visit to Rome, in which he allegedly met Mifsud for the first time: "On March 12, 2016, I arrived at Link Campus with a group of colleagues from the LCILP, including Donald Lewis, who is from Stanford University," he wrote. For Roh, the LCILP was "simply a cover for intelligence operations". At Link, they consider it "unlikely" that the first meeting between Mifsud and Papadopoulos took place in Rome. LCILP’s webite states that Mifusd had been a board member for some time. Papadopolus appears more recently as an LCILP director for energy issues, but from a date prior to 12 March 2016 when he claims he first met Mifsud. According to Papadopolus' partner, Simona Mangiante, LCILP "occupied a room in a building in an up-market area of London, with an oval table in the centre" – suggesting it is implausible that Papadopolus and Mifsud never previously met there. At least at the beginning of his public involvement in Russiagate, Mifsud "did not hide on his own initiative” but was forced to, according to Roh. At the end of October 2017, Papadopoulos’s confession to investigators from Mueller's team was made public, after his arrest in July, at Chicago airport. Papadopoulos was accused of lying to the FBI in a previous interrogation, on January 27, about his relations with a "foreign professor" and his connections with Russia. According to rumours swirling in Washington, the foreign academic’s name that leaked out was Joseph Mifsud. He too "had been questioned in the US in February 2017, while he was in Washington for a conference organized by the State Department. On that occasion, however, the FBI agents still led by James Comey had asked him questions," Roh said. Comey was sacked "by Trump a few months later, in May that year.

In his version of events, Roh drops a 'bombshell', with a claim about a secret meeting at the Link University purportedly attended by former centre-left Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni in late February 2017, a few days after Mifsud’s alleged interrogation in Washington.

GENTILONI AND MIGLIORE - Gentiloni (who was Italy’s prime minister at the time) and (then) justice under-secretary Gennaro Migliore attended a private strategy meeting on 25 February 2017 at Link headquarters in Rome, according to Roh. "Russo is a witness. This was the moment when the Link came into play and Mifsud’s life changed, he said." Roh also made the revelation to La Verita. But sources close to Gentiloni, now the European Union’s incoming economy commissioner, categorically denied he was present at such a meeting, and Russo also denied he attended. "I never saw Gentiloni," Russo told Adnkronos.

Migliore also denied to Adnkronos that he attended alleged meeting at Link with Gentiloni, although Russo told the agency Migliore was a student at the university and took part in conferences and other events that it organized. "I have known Gennaro for 15 years, we are friends," Russo stated. Scotti told Adnkronos he he did not meet Gentiloni while he was Italian premier. "I never met Gentiloni when he was prime minster - at Link or elsewhere," Scotti said.

THE MEDIA STORM - After Mifsud’s name becomes public - and not due to his academic merit - he and Link Campus University were hit by a powerful media storm. On October 31, at Link headquarters, Mifsud gave an interview to Italian daily La Repubblica, in which he denied involvement in any plot against Clinton to aid Trump. "He also repeated it in my office last year. He told me, 'I never talked about email with Papadopoulos'," Roh said. October 31 was the last date that Mifsud was seen at Link University, Scotti and other Link chiefs told Adnkronos, repeating affirmations made by Scotti previously in various interviews. "After the interview with Repubblica, Roh disappeared - for two months we had no news from him,” said Link’s leadership. Link had rented accommodation for Mifsud in Rome but given his continuing silence “under the terms of the lease, we sent the termination letter,” they said. “After 6 months we returned the keys to the owner,” Link’s leadership added.

ROH'S RECONSTRUCTION - The same day, Mifsud was alleged sent to Matelica, a small town in the Marche region, Roh's told Adnkronos and according to what he claims Mifsud stated in his recorded deposition now in Durham’s hands. The “number-two” of Italy’s secret services was there to ensure Mifsud got into a waiting car, Roh said his client told him. In an interview given at the same time to La Verita, Roh is quoted as saying: “Mifsud has confirmed to me that one of the heads of an Italian secret services agency contacted Scotti during the time the scandal broke and recommended that Mifsud vanish." The alleged involvement of secret services and disclosure of the hiding place of Matelica is a further bombshell. However, when pressed by Adnkronos, Roh claims that Mifsud gave him this information off the record “with the microphone turned off and without naming anyone”. Mifsud also did not specify which sector of Italy’s secret services the alleged “number two" belonged to, according to Roh.

FADINI AND RUSSO - In Matelica, Mifsud "hid until the end of December 2017,” Mifsud claimed. “Whoever organized this should be viewed as a key witness of Durham’s investigation," he said. The lawyer brought up two more names: "Vanna Fadini and Pasquale Russo ". He was referring to the president of GEM and the university’s director-general. The house in Matelica in which Mifsud allegedly hid between November and December 2017 "belongs to a friend of Fadini's, a dentist," Roh said. The claim was strongly denied by Fadini. "I never hosted anyone in Matelica, I have no home in Matelica, no dentist friends, no one. If I really have to think of someone from Matelica, a conductor comes to mind,” she told Adnkronos. Roh also provided Adnkronos with some emails in which he asked Link for a series of explanations regarding financial matters, on the university’s alleged involvement in Russiagate and the Mifsud affair. In particular, in an email exchange from the end of July to 1 August 2019, Roh informs "Vanna" (Fadini) and "Pasquale" (Russo) of having sent "data, registrations, etc." concerning Mifsud to the US authorities and planning "an appointment for a discussion with US investigators". "I am of the opinion that you can be key witnesses and that it is in Joseph's interest that you come forward to tell everything". "If we had been key witnesses someone would have already come to look for us", Russo said commented to Adnkronos. In an emailed reply in possession of Adnkronos and whose authenticity she has confirmed, Fadini writes: "Dear Stephan, you bear personal responsibility for what you choose to forward to special prosecutor Durham." The email adds: “I believe I have repeatedly clarified the extraneousness of Link and us to the so-called Russiagate (which I am not in any case acquainted with). I believe it is LCU and GEM that have suffered reputational damage from these unfounded rumours. It will be necessary to reflect on this damage once the various ongoing investigations are completed. Meanwhile, I do not think that further discussions on this topic are useful."

In other emails from April that Roh handed to Adnkronos, he asked "Vanna" and "Pasquale" to give an account of their alleged involvement (and Link’s) in "hiding" Mifsud, and for information on financial and administrative issues including whether Scotti was the major shareholder “on a trust basis” of the 'old GEM' group of intel & security companies. Before acquiring his 5% stake in GEM, Roh had carried out a 'due diligence' study of the entire corporate structure and already had the information that he “insistently” asked for by email in “for political reasons”, according to Link’s leadership. Under privacy rules, Link declined to say whether Scotti was the " major shareholder " of the group. However, checks by Adnkronos showed that Scotti has no shares in any company connected to Link.

SUITE FINANCE - Roh also asked Link for explanations on the Maltese Suite Finance company, which is currently being investigated by La Verita. “You/ others confirmed that a minimum of three million euros were received by Suite Finance. Was the agreed total of 12 million euros received in full? How much has been received from Suite Finance, what is the origin of the funds, who is the beneficiary, where is the money now? Please clarify if these loans are connected to Joseph’s role in Russiagate? I note in your statements that the money received ‘has not been accounted for’. What does that mean?” Roh wrote. Russo and Fadini vehemently denied the transfer of three million euros to GEM by Suite Finance. "Absolutely not, we received nothing,” they told Adnkronos, a claim confirmed by the Shareholders' Agreement between GEM and Suite Finance seen by the agency. In a further request for information, Roh asked Fadini and Russo for “explanations regarding the funding of the Link Center for War and Peace by the Saudi Obaid family: do the funds originate from the 1MDB scandal? Please, clarify whether the funding is related to Joseph's role in Russiagate or was it used by Joseph in any other way? " he wrote. The reference to the "1MDB scandal" concerns the alleged involvement of the Obaid family in the disappearance of billions of dollars from the Malaysian government investment fund 1MDB. "We confirm that there was an agreement with the Link Campus University Foundation, which provided for a loan of 750,000 euros over three years (250,000 euros a year), needed to pay six people and all the expenses of this Centre", Russo told Adnkronos. But when the scandal broke, the agreement didn’t go ahead and “no such loans ever arrived". From the tone of his emails, from the pressing questions sent to the Link’s management and also in his comments to Adnkronos, Roh implies that the alleged loans from Suite Finance and the Obaid family could be somehow connected to the role of Mifsud in Russiagate and his disappearance.

"Mifsud had to disappear, because he could compromise the entire Mueller investigation," Roh charges.

MIFSUD'S MOVEMENTS - But let’s return to the movements of the Maltese professor, according to the account given by Roh to Adnkronos. Mifsud left Matelica for Malta at the end of 2017 "to visit his parents, who had health problems". At the beginning of 2018, Mifsud is "back in Italy, mainly in Rome". The fact that at least for a certain period of last year, Mifsud was in Italy, has been reported by other Italian news outlets (including La Verita, il Foglio and La Repubblica newspapers). He stayed in an apartment belonging to Link- which is confirmed also by the extracts account of his credit card, obtained from the Adnkronos. It is British Mastercard issued by Debenhams, with which Mifsud, among other things, also topped up a SIM card on August 24th. Mifsud kept himself "out of the spotlight" at that time but moved around quite freely – as is shown by his credit card spending, Roh told Adnkronos. "He used an Italian identity card Italian in the name of Joseph Di Gabriele, I think it was his mother's last name. He showed it to me,” said Roh. Mifsud was convinced would soon be able to return to his normal life, he said. "He told me, as soon as the Mueller Report comes out I will be out of this story," because "everyone was convinced that the Report would lead to Trump's impeachment.”

TRUMP, CLINTON AND THE FBI'S ROLE - Instead, the report, released on April 18 of this year with various omissions did not demonstrate with "sufficient evidence" any criminal conspiracy between Moscow and the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. In the Report, the name of Mifsud appears as that of the person who offered Papadopoulos the "dirty" material on Hillary Clinton. The US justice department has launched a criminal investigation into the origins of the Mueller inquiry, spearheaded by Durham. Barr says he is convinced, after a series of conversations with intelligence officials and other agencies, that the FBI acted improperly, if not illegally. "If Mifsud speaks, he has the evidence to prove the things he said on and off the record. It would be a big deal for a lot of people in the United States," the Swiss lawyer whispers half-heartedly. "The serious crime was not the spying on Trump, but the fabrication of evidence to justify Mueller's investigation,” he said.

Mifsud was asked to introduce Papadopoulos to the Russians, to create the case, Roh argued.

“Mifsud was then hidden and threatened to support the investigation. Nobody disappears like that in Europe, except over matters of state or if the mafia is involved. In my opinion, Joseph must cooperate with the investigation, he is a victim ". After Roh’s “exchange of views” with Durham, the Americans “know everything," Roh claimed. The final word, which will be decisive for Italy, will be the Barr report due by the end of the month.

LINK HITS BACK - Link Campus University has dismissed reports published by La Verita and Roh's claims in his interview with Adnkronos as "the umpteenth series of defamatory lies" and “fake news”.

“It is the umpteenth series of defamatory lies that the University has already responded to by showing journalists from the Adnkronos agency all the original documentation in support of our information,” Link said in a statement.

The statement reiterated previous denials by senior members of Link that Gentiloni ever came to the university. "Stephan Roh has turned out to be a vulgar liar, a real fake news trafficker and those who published his claims without verifying the credibility of the source is a de facto accomplice".

"According to his own version of events, Roh appears to be the only 'key witness' of the affair, he is 'the last to have seen Mifsud', the only one to know the movements of his client and it is he, together with Papadopulos, to accuse his client of being a M16 agent,” the statement went on, accusing him of an attempted plot to frame Mifsud.

Roh real aim was “to infiltrate a free university and perhaps to appropriate it given its great value, which he ascertained with due diligence, and given his refusal to cede his shares in GEM," the statement said.

“Roh persued his own interests and those of his associate George Papadopulos, who we have already sued.”

“Interviews given by the two proven protagonists of the true Russiagate, Papadopoulos (who was jailed for lying) and Roh turn against the US intelligence services of the past and Italian and European institutions,” the statement went on.

Adnkronos’s article on the Russiagate affair is "devastating" and pours "more fuel on the fire," tweeted Giulio Occhionero protagonist of the EyePyramid affair for which he was sentenced in the first instance to five years. "Mifsud kidnapped by Italian intelligence number two and forcefully taken to Matelica, in the Marche. Then back to Rome," writes Occhionero, who claims he was also a victim of Russiagate.

"Who this intelligence number two is will be an open secret," the tweet added.

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