The lawyer for one of the central figures of the Mueller investigation has denied a slew of alleged connections to Russia, though has acknowledged some.
Stephan Roh is the lawyer for Joseph Mifsud, the well-traveled Maltese academic described in the Mueller report as maintaining “various Russian contacts.”
In April 2016, Mifsud allegedly told a Trump campaign aide that Russians had “thousands of emails” of rival presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This information was ultimately used by the FBI to open a counterintelligence investigation that involved extensive spying on Trump campaign staff.
Mueller took over the probe in 2017 and after 22 months concluded in March that the investigation didn’t establish that President Donald Trump or anybody from his team conspired or coordinated with Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.
As Mifsud’s name emerged in media reports in 2017, Roh put forward a claim that Mifsud was likely a Western intelligence asset used to connect the Trump campaign to Russia.
While Mifsud denied being an agent, he was indeed rubbing shoulders with people in the Western political, diplomatic, security, and even counter-terrorism circles, including with former Italian interior minister Vincenzo Scotti, former deputy president of the European Parliament Gianni Pittella, and even former British prosecutor Arvinder Sambei, who used to work with the FBI on counter-terrorism extradition cases. There’s also some evidence that Scotti has supervised or at least been aware of Mifsud’s establishing contacts in Russia.
Meanwhile, media scrutinized Roh’s background, finding that he ran several businesses, including an energy consultancy and a law firm, and has offices in Switzerland, Germany, London, Hong Kong, mainland China, Russia, Monaco, and the United Arab Emirates.
Of particular interest to many media were any contacts Roh may have had with Russia.
Roh has been open about his sympathies for Russia.
His wife is a Russian fashion designer and he’s been pursuing business in Russia too. He’s rejected, however, speculations about a more extensive Russian involvement in his business ventures, such as those put forward by blogger Scott Stedman, who was the first to report same aspects of Roh’s background.
Between December 2011 and October 2016, Roh’s company, R&B Secretarial Services acted as a company secretary, meaning legal representative, to Helena Investments, a UK investment company that, at some point, became the owner of small Russian oil investor Finrusinvest.
In February 2015, Russian businessman and former government employee Gleb Ageev became the director of Helena Investments.
Finrusinvest pulled in about $1.2 million in revenue between 2015 and 2017, largely, it appears, thanks to a series of local government real estate and fuel supply contracts in Russia.
Roh said he only got a “small service income” for the work with Helena.
The significance of the work with Helena seems heightened by the fact that R&B Secretarial Services acted as company secretary to only seven entities—six of Roh’s own companies and Helena Investments.
Roh pointed out that private limited liability companies in the UK are not required to appoint a secretary. He said that R&B Secretarial Services had other clients who didn’t use this particular level of service.
In 2005, Roh bought a small resource company, Severnvale Nuclear Services, from British nuclear scientist John Harbottle.
Harbottle was spooked by Roh’s inviting him on an all-expenses-paid trip to Russia, he told the BBC. He refused the trip and was fired shortly afterward. Within three years, the two-employee outfit hiked revenue from about $75,000 a year to more than $43 million. It was dissolved in 2013.
Roh said he used Severnvale for a “new opportunity” to partner with Swiss and German “established well known commodity traders”—no Russians or uranium involved. He declined to name the partners.
“A trading contract can easily generate millions,” he said, noting that his margin was about 10 percent so the resulting profit was not “exciting.”
As for the lack of employees, he said the company was backed by his energy consultancy.
Severnvale Nuclear II
As it happened, in 2006 a company with a similar name, Severnvale Nuclear Trading, was set up in Ireland. The company changed its name to Vinkins Holdings in 2008 and a few months later changed its leadership too. In its 2013 tax returns, two companies based in Russia and Cyprus were listed as its subsidiaries, one headed by former Russian Senator Alexey Klishin and the other by the former director of Klishin’s law firm.
Apart from the similar name, there doesn’t seem to be any connection between Roh’s company and the one linked to Klishin. Roh denied any connection.
Klishin’s law firm landed at least one Russian government contract. Klishin’s website states the firm was picked in 2009 by the Russian Ministry of Justice to provide legal advice to the Russian representative at the European Court of Human Rights.
Roh and Klishin met in December 2016 at a conference in Rome hosted by Link Campus University, an institution headed by Scotti and a mingling place for Western intelligence and security officials and experts. Mifsud attended, too.
Klishin came to Link through his role as a law professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Mifsud already hosted Klishin in January that year at the London Academy of Diplomacy (LAD), where he served as a director.
It appears Mifsud has worked for years on building relationships with Russian academic institutions, especially the ones that rear future Russian government officials and diplomats. The end goal seemed to be to bring their students over to study at Link or LAD—a golden opportunity to build relationships with future Russian leaders.
On Mifsud’s prompting, Roh said he bought a 5 percent stake in Link in 2015. That year, Roh took Mifsud on as an unpaid consultant, he said, hoping Mifsud could help him expand his business in Russia.
“He did not bring one client,” Roh said.
A Fund by the Same Name
The year after buying Severnvale, Roh set up an investment fund in Cyprus called East Star Diversity Fund LLC. The next year, a report came out in Russian media that an East Star Diversity Fund was handling $200 million, including the money of former Russian Senator-turned-banker Gleb Fetisov.
There’s no evidence of a connection between Roh’s fund and Fetisov. Roh denied any connection, saying his fund never had any investors.
The media report stated the Russian fund was managed by Centreinvest Capital Partners, a company set up in 2007 in Cyprus. It’s possible that Centreinvest named its fund East Star Diversity with no relation to Roh’s company. Indeed, “East Star” in not a rare name for a Chinese or Russian entity and Roh said he set up the fund with an eye on eastern clients. He closed it in 2011 after, he said, the financial crisis “crashed all hopes.”
Justice Department Cooperation
Roh’s name has recently popped up in the media after U.S. Attorney John Durham reportedly requested a recorded deposition that Mifsud entered with Roh in May 2018. Roh said he provided the deposition to Durham’s team as well as some Congress members.
Attorney General William Barr told Congress in April about his intent to review “both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign during 2016.” Durham’s investigation is most likely a part of that effort.
Update: The article has been updated to reflect that Scott Stedman was the first to report some aspects of Stephan Roh’s background.