A former UK culture secretary has written to Stirling University about its involvement with an academic who allegedly set up meetings between a Donald Trump campaign aide and Russian officials.
Labour MP Ben Bradshaw penned a letter to university principal Professor Gerry McCormac seeking further clarity on Professor Joseph Mifsud’s role at the institution.
The Maltese academic quit his post at Stirling in November in the wake of revelations he had been in contact with George Papadopoulos, an adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign.
A US criminal indictment quotes a number of emails and summarises verbal communications in 2016 between the Trump aide and an anonymous academic, who was later named as Prof Mifsud.
The interactions between the pair include Prof Mifsud allegedly informing Papadopoulos of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, an accusation he denies.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to wilfully misleading FBI agents about his relationship with the professor.
He was indicted as part of US special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to the Kremlin.
Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, was culture secretary from June 2009 until the 2010 general election.
He has written to the principals of Stirling University and the University of East Anglia (UEA), which also had a relationship with Prof Mifsud.
Bradshaw said he is “extremely concerned by the lack of transparency so far by both universities” in the face of scrutiny over their connections with the professor.
He previously wrote to Prof McCormac in November seeking clarity on the academic’s role at Stirling University and asked whether the allegations about Prof Mifsud brought to light by the Mueller probe were true.
In his letter on November 2, Bradshaw wrote: “It would be less than orthodox for a British academic to offer to act as a go-between between the Russian authorities and a presidential campaign team with the deliberate intent of obtaining covertly gathered material to try to undermine another of the presidential candidates.”
A response from the Stirling principal on November 14 said Prof Mifsud “refuted the allegations in the media”, adding that he had been employed as a “full-time professorial teaching fellow” at the university in May 2017.
STV News previously revealed the Maltese academic had in fact been on the university’s payroll on a part-time basis for more than a year prior to that.
Via freedom of information, the university eventually conceded last month that it had first employed Prof Mifsud as a professorial teaching fellow in December 2015.
In his second letter to the principal, sent on Wednesday, Bradshaw asked for more detail on a number of issues, including Prof Mifsud’s resignation as well as the history of his connections with both Prof McCormac and Stirling’s ex-deputy principal Professor John Gardner.
The MP also queried Stirling’s involvement with the now-defunct London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD), of which Prof Mifsud was director.
Between 2014 and 2016, Stirling entered into a partnership with LAD which involved the university validating its Masters degrees, an arrangement it inherited from UEA.
However, STV News understands that only nine months into the partnership with Stirling, in June 2015, LAD staff were informed the academy would be closed down by its owners, higher education firm INTO.
The academy eventually wound up in mid-2016.
An official financial report from 2014 reveals that LAD operated at an annual loss of £3.8m and clocked up administrative expenses of £7.5m.
Bradshaw asked: “What due diligence was carried out on Mr Mifsud and his academic qualifications and on the academic quality of the work produced at the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD) before Stirling decided to start accrediting its Masters degrees?
“Were any inquiries made into the viability of LAD as a business?”
Stirling University also signed a wider cooperation agreement with INTO in 2014 which saw the unveiling of a new £6.5m facility for international students on campus in November last year.
The university hired Prof Mifsud directly in December 2015 and said of the decision to employ him: “His portfolio encompasses international affairs and diplomacy reflecting his academic and professional background in this field.”
There is no evidence of any academic research carried out in these fields by Prof Mifsud, whose academic background is in education.
Stirling University denied a freedom of information request by STV News for details of Prof Mifsud’s academic background in international affairs and diplomacy, citing data protection.
He did serve as a private secretary to former Maltese foreign minister Michael Frendo between 2006 and 2007 but does not ever appear to have been a formal diplomat.
In internal emails previously obtained by STV News, Stirling University management boasted of Prof Mifsud’s ties to the Russian government, including to Vladimir Putin.
The Papadopoulos indictment alleges that Prof Mifsud put the Trump aide in contact with a man who had links to Russia’s ministry of foreign affairs.
Prof Mifsud also reportedly arranged a meeting in London where he introduced a Russian woman to Papadopoulos, falsely claiming she was President Putin’s niece.
In his letter, Bradshaw asked Prof McCormac: “Were you, Mr Gardner or any member of Stirling University’s management aware of Mr Mifsud’s contacts with Russian state actors?”
The Labour MP also enquired about Stirling’s involvement with Link Campus University in Rome, where Prof Mifsud worked for a number of years.
An image posted on the Italian university’s Facebook page on October 26 last year – just five days before the revelations about Prof Mifsud first surfaced in the media – shows Prof McCormac at a function with the Maltese academic.
Link Campus University’s president, former Italian politician Vincenzo Scotti, is also listed as an honorary professor at Stirling.
STV News discovered from freedom of information that of Prof Mifsud’s 18 total visits to Stirling campus during his employ, 11 of them occurred during a five-month period last year, with at least seven of the visits due to unspecified meetings.
Bradshaw wrote: “I understand Mr Mifsud visited the Stirling campus 18 times between 2015 and 2017, but that 11 of these took place between May and September 2017, at least seven of which were for meetings.
“What was the reason for this increase in meetings?
“What is the nature of Stirling’s cooperation with Link Campus University in Rome and what role did Mr Mifsud play in developing this?”
He added: “Is the university undertaking any investigations or reviews in the wake of recent media revelations and Mr Mifsud’s departure?”
Stirling University declined to comment for this story, referring back to previous statements on the matter.
Bradshaw told STV News: “I am extremely concerned by the lack of transparency so far by both universities over the appointment and reasons for departure of Mr Mifsud.
“It is likely that more details about him will be made public when the US special counsel, Robert Mueller, publishes the findings of his investigation into alleged collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign, so it would be very much in the interests of Stirling and UEA to be open and honest about this matter now.”
A full copy of the MP’s letter can be found at the link below: