The Trump-Russia affair and an odd company in London
For several weeks last year, two key figures in the Trump-Russia affair — 30-year-old George Papadopoulos and a mysterious Maltese “professor” called Joseph Mifsud — were ostensibly colleagues working for an obscure company in London.
Simultaneously, though, Papadopoulos was working for Trump’s election campaign and — with Mifsud as intermediary — trying to arrange a meeting between Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
Papadopoulos is currently facing criminal charges in the US and the whereabouts of Mifsud are unknown. Meanwhile, the company that apparently had both men on its payroll — the London Centre of International Law and Practice Limited (LCILP) — is something of an enigma and has remained silent in the face of media enquiries. This article attempts to shed some light on its activities.
LCILP began as an offshoot from another company — EN Education Group Limited — which describes itself as “a global education consultancy, facilitating links between students, education providers and organisations with an interest in education worldwide”.
Its website tells prospective clients: “You decide where to study and EN Education will help you get the offers you need to live abroad during your studies.”
EN Education’s website has logos of some 20 British universities which it describes as “our partners”. However, a section headed “Our destinations” and written in Arabic suggests it can also arrange studies in other countries besides Britain: Thailand, Malaysia, Malta, Russia, Austria, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States. The inclusion of Malta and Russia in this list is interesting because of Mifsud’s connections with both of them — but it may be pure coincidence.
EN Education appears to seek out Arab clients in particular. Its main office is in Bayswater — a London district popular with Arab visitors — and, according to its website, it has branch offices in Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
EN Education is owned and run by Nagi Khalid Idris, a 48-year-old British citizen of Sudanese origin. A biographical note about Idris describes him as “a senior international lawyer and Fellow of the International Bar Association, with over 19 years of legal consultancy experience”.
The biographical note goes on to mention that Idris is a visiting professor at Link Campus University in Rome — a private university established as a
subsidiary of the University of Malta.
Joseph Mifsud is also involved with Link Campus, though it’s not exactly clear what his role is. According to the Guardian he is “an official” at Link, and a page on Link’s website says he is in charge of a three-year degree course in political science and international relations.
Idris’s biographical note also states that he “previously served as a senior legal consultant at Peter Dovey & Co Solicitors” — a relationship that led to the formation of LCILP.
The first public announcement about LCILP appears to have been an advertisement seeking interns who would be paid a miserly £50 a week in “expenses”. The advertisement said:
“We are looking for creative and self-motivated individuals to be a part of our new subsidiary, London Centre of International Law Practice. This will be a part of En Education Group Ltd, which has over 15 years of corporate training experience, along with in house international lawyers.
“This project will be focused on developing continuing education and training programs for legal professionals in a ‘think tank’ environment. LCILP hopes to provide training, research, and advice — creating ‘Peace and Development through International Law and Dispute Resolution’.
“Our faculty has extensive experience with corporate law, human rights, international arbitration, international humanitarian law, project finance, and public private partnership law.”
Judging by its website, LCILP is partly a think tank, partly a consultancy firm and partly a training centre for lawyers and others in the field of international law. It holds conferences and workshops, some of which have attracted people from prominent law firms.
Attendance fees can be as high as £600 ($785) for a three-hour event though the slogan on its website — “Peace and development through international law and conflict resolution” — suggests its goals are not purely commercial.
Company records show that Idris resigned as a director of LCILP early in 2015, leaving Dovey as its owner and sole director. However Idris has continued to figure prominently on the website as a director (even though he isn’t) and it appears to have been Idris rather than Dovey who brought Mifsud into LCILP — probably through their shared involvement with Link Campus in Italy.
In its three years of existence, LCILP has had five changes of address and is currently at 8 Lincolns Inn Fields. Among London’s legal community this ranks as a highly prestigious address but reporters who paid visits last week to the fine Georgian building left disappointed.
The Washington Post “buzzed the door on several occasions during business hours” but no one answered. Quartz Media had a little more luck, and discovered that LCILP’s office “amounted to four people working in an undecorated backroom, all of whom declined to comment”.
The same building is also the official address for three other companies owned by Idris — London Academy of International Law Limited, Cambridge Academy of International Law Limited and London Centre of Law and English Limited (previously known as Islamic Finance and Legal Expertise Limited) — plus Valstone Limited in which Idris, Dovey and a Saudi named Waleed Binhomran have equal shares.
Before LCILP started attracting media attention its website had a page headed “Our team” listing numerous people as its experts, consultants, associates and researchers — most of whom appear to have had a fairly tenuous connection with the organisation. The “Our team” page has since disappeared from LCILP’s website though various archived versions of it can still be found.
The earliest archived version, dated March 2015, suggests that in addition to Idris and Dovey, four people were actively involved as section heads:
In addition to Polaine and Sambei, Daniel Joyner, a professor at Alabama University, was named head of International Nuclear Energy Law and Nuclear Non-Proliferation, while Pierre-Emmanuel Dupont was head of Public International Law and Dispute Settlement.
Joseph Mifsud appears to have formally joined LCILP around October/November 2015. A version of the “Our team” page archived on 30 November shows him as LCILP’s “board adviser” for the first time.
By that stage, though, Mifsud had already been less-formally involved with LCILP for more than a year. The first known event organised by LCILP — on counter-terrorism, in November 2014 — was held of the premises of Mifsud’s now-defunct London Academy of Diplomacy. Mifsud continued to figure prominently on the “Our team” page until its recent disappearance.
In October 2016, as LCILP’s “Director for International Strategic Development”, Mifsud chaired an evening conference on non-state armed groups in Africa and the Middle East.
Organised by LCILP and with former Foreign Office minister Mark Simmonds as its keynote speaker, the event was held in conjunction with the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, the French-based Institut Prospective et Sécurité de L’Europe (IPSE) and the UN-mandated University for Peace, according to the brochure.
The conference was billed as the first in a series of ten, to be held at three-monthly intervals, though the other nine don’t seem to have materialised.
Mifsud was clearly an influential figure at LCILP in March last year when George Papadopoulos surfaced as its head of its so-called Centre for International Energy and Natural Resources Law & Security.
Immediately prior to joining LCILP he had spent six weeks working for Ben Carson, a Republican contender for the US presidency. Carson’s campaign was flagging and Papadopoulos left at the end of January. He wasn’t without work for long, however, and swiftly stepped into two new roles: one as a foreign policy adviser to Trump, the other with LCILP.
Exactly how he got his job at LCILP is still a mystery. According to his own testimony, Papadopoulos first met Mifsud “on or about” 14 March, while travelling in Italy. The obvious assumption is that Mifsud eased him into LCILP but it’s unlikely to have been as a result of the 14 March meeting. An archived copy of LCILP’s “Our team” page recorded on the same day shows Papadopoulos already in his post. Papadopoulos’s LinkedIn profile, which may or may not be accurate, says he joined LCILP in February 2016.
The Centre for International Energy and Natural Resources Law & Security existed, at least in name, before Papadopoulos’s arrival and it’s unclear why he was chosen to head it. A list on the website of a dozen people associated with it suggests others were better qualified.
At the time of his appointment to LCILP, Papadopoulos already knew he was going to be a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign. According to a document recently released by the US Justice Department, he had a conversation about this with a campaign official on 6 March. On 21 March, the Trump campaign named five men as its foreign policy team — one of whom was Papadopoulos.
Trump personally hailed his appointment — “he’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy” — but others were less impressed. On any objective view, Papadopoulos’s credentials were slim.
The question this raises is whether his appointment to LCILP, with an important-sounding title, had been orchestrated to give him some formal status and the appearance of gravitas. The Washingon Post, for instance, reported:
“Papadopoulos, a 2009 graduate of DePaul University, directs an international energy center at the London Center of International Law Practice.”
The paper seems to have been unaware that at the time he had held the post for a few weeks at the most.
Details of actual work done by Papadopoulos in his role as head of the energy centre are scarce. A photo posted on Twitter on February 25 shows him among a group from LCILP visiting Togo’s ambassador in London “to discuss water management”. Another photo shows him attending a conference on “Energy Arbitration & Dispute Resolution in the Middle East & Africa”, organised by LCILP in London on March 7–8.
On May 25 — although he had officially left by then– a photograph on Twitter showed Papadopoulos among a LCILP delegation visitingLink Campus University in Italy. In July he also appeared at a meeting of the American Jewish Committee in Cleveland, Ohio, described as a representative of LCILP.
While purportedly employed by LCIL he certainly did plenty of work related to the Trump campaign.
While in London, on or about 24 March, according to the Justice Department document, Papadopoulos had a meeting with Mifsud and a Russian woman who was said to have connections to senior Russian government officials. He then emailed the Trump campaign to say he had just met with his “good friend” the “professor” [Mifsud] who had introduced him to the Russian woman.
About a week later, Papadopoulos attended a meeting in Washington with Trump and the other foreign policy advisers where, according to the document, he explained “that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin”.
The Justice Department document then goes on to describe frequent contacts involving Papadopoulos, Mifsud, Russians and the Trump campaign which continued from March through to August — all aimed at arranging a Trump-Putin meeting. In the end, however, no such meeting took place.
All this leaves LCILP with questions to answer. How and why did it appoint Papadopoulos to head its energy centre? Did it know he was working for Trump at the same time? Was it paying him a salary? If not, who was?
This article was revised on 10 November 2017, to provide more detail about Nagi Idris’s companies, Papadopoulos’s activities at LCILP and his period working for the Carson campaign.