Italy investigates Maltese prof implicated in Russia probe

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ROME (AP) — Prosecutors in Sicily are investigating suspected embezzlement by a mysterious Maltese academic who has been linked to a U.S. probe of hacked emails.

Agrigento Prosecutor Salvatore Vella said by telephone Monday that his office is investigating Joseph Mifsud for suspected embezzlement of at least 100,000 euros ($110,000) in connection with his role at a local public university. But Vella said since the investigation is continuing, the tab could be higher.

“We’re still adding it up,” Vella said.

Mifsud apparently disappeared in 2017. Vella says his office, which needs to formally notify the professor that he is under investigation, hasn’t been able so far to locate him.

U.S. prosecutors have alleged that a campaign adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump had learned from Mifsud about stolen emails that figured in the FBI’s probe into alleged hacking by Russia.

A Sicily-based newspaper, Giornale della Sicilia, reported that Mifsud had run up huge phone bills for calls made while in Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. The academic had made numerous voyages to Russia, Malta, Libya, the United States, Lebanon and Bulgaria, it said.

Last year, in a separate probe in Sicily, a Palermo-based auditors’ court ordered Mifsud to return nearly 50,000 euros in over payments in connection with his university role. Court documents in that case listed his address as “residence unknown” and said attempts to find Mifsud at an apartment in Rome, on his former campus and in London proved fruitless.

Last month, Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that it had received an email with an audio message purportedly from Mifsud.

The newspaper said it had no way of verifying that it was indeed the professor who had sent it. In the message, the person speaking denied any links with those belonging to secret services or intelligence services, Corriere della Sera said. The speaker also said that he “never, never came into possession of information that could be useful to one side or another,” the newspaper said.

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