Maria Efimova, the Russian woman at the centre of the corruption case involving the Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat, turned herself in to the Greek police in Athens on Tuesday. Efimova first made headlines when it emerged that she had passed sensitive information to the Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was working on a story about corruption involving the family of the Maltese prime minister when she was assassinated in a car bombing last year.
Efimova had worked in the Maltese branch of Pilatus Bank, an Iranian-owned credit institution based in London, and had revealed to Caruana Galizia that Michelle Muscat, the wife of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, owned an offshore company to which the daughter of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was sending money via Pilatus bank.
Using the information provided to her by Efimova, Caruana Galizia’s probe into Pilatus found that bank processed the payment of a bribe of $1 million from the Azerbaijani government to the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. According to Caruana Galizia investigations, corroborated by Maria Efimova, the money was transferred from Azerbaijan to Malta and from here to Dubai, through a series of accounts in the name of Panamanian companies. Among these was one owned by Michelle Muscat, the wife of the Maltese premier.
Both the Azerbaijani government and Maltese prime minister deny these allegations.
In November 2017, Maltese authorities issued an arrest warrant for Efimova accusing her of making false claims to the police. Efimova, who claims that these allegations form part of a plot by the Maltese government to destroy her credibility, then went into hiding to avoid arrest. The following month, while still on the run from authorities in Malta, she provided the European Central Bank with several documents alleging the systematic violation of anti-money laundering regulations by Pilatus Bank, an accusation that the bank denies.
In January, Cyprus, where Efimova lived four years previously, also issued an arrest warrant for the whistleblower for allegedly stealing 1,000 euros from a former employer.
Greek MEP Stelios Kouloglou, who had been helping Efimova with an application for residency in Greece, told the Guardian that he spoke to her on Monday night. “She called me last night from the police station. She told me she turned herself in because she was afraid. Her husband called this morning. He said she was terrorised and saying she was going to die.”
Thirty-six MEPs from across the political spectrum have signed a statement urging the Greek government to grant Efimova asylum and not to extradite her back to Malta. “Whoever sends her there is like sending her to the mouth of the wolf,” said Kouloglou in a statement, calling the charges against her “ridiculous”.