Russian whistleblower faces Cypriot arrest warrant after complaint from former employer

Limassol-based Costas Tsirides & Co reported Egrant whistleblower Maria Efimova for allegedly stealing from the company back in 2014

The Pilatus Bank headquarters in Ta' Xbiex where Maria Efimova once worked
The Pilatus Bank headquarters in Ta' Xbiex where Maria Efimova once worked

Maria Efimova, the Russian whistleblower who had been a source for slain Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, has been issued with an arrest warrant by Cypriot police.

According to the Cypriot Business Mail, Natalia Antoniou – in her capacity as director of IDF Fragrance Distribution, said the Limassol law firm Costas Tsirides & Co filed a complaint with the police against Efimova in December, for allegedly stealing from the company.

Efimova, who lived in Cyprus before travelling for work to Malta with her family, said she was surprised that despite preparing company accounts in previous years there was never a complaint about her stealing.

“After four years, did they now happen to have remembered this?” asked Efimova.

In a telephone interview with the Cypriot newspaper, Antoniou said that she had filed the complaint four years ago on the instructions of the ultimate beneficial owner of Fragrance Distribution, which led to the issuing of a European arrest warrant for Efimova.

The newspaper quoted a police source that spoke on condition of anonymity, saying that the complaint had been filed four years ago, but it took the police more than three years to complete the investigation and secure the arrest warrants for Efimova, a mother of two, and her husband.

Efimova was also the co-owner of a Cypriot company called Estasia Consulting at one point, together with Pantelis Varnava. The latter was also registered at the same Sliema address when Efimova was living in Malta.

Efimova was described by the Cypriot Business Mail as having an excellent command of the Greek language who worked until 2014 for the Russian-owned Cypriot company I.D.F. Fragrance Distribution before leaving Cyprus. “My life and that of my family in Malta was in danger and we were forced to leave,” Efimova said in a telephone interview to the Cyprus Business Mail. “Time showed that we did well to do so. We left in August and they killed Daphne Caruana Galizia in October”.

Efimova has claimed she was “100 per cent” certain that the Cyrpriot complaint was part of a plot to have her extradited to Malta, where she is wanted to testify in various cases. The woman is subject to at least two ongoing criminal proceedings, being accused in one of defrauding Pilatus Bank and in another of having made false accusations against Superintendent Denis Theuma and inspectors Jonathan Ferris and Lara Butters. She has since absconded from Malta after giving evidence to an inquiring magistrate in an inquiry into allegations that the Prime Minister’s wife was the owner of a Panama offshore company called Egrant Inc, which declaration of trust Efimova says she had seen.

The European Parliament, alarmed by the Maltese journalist’s assassination three months ago, has asked European Union member states, including Malta, to protect Efimova and grant her asylum.

In a letter dated December 23, socialist MEP Ana Gomes said that she and her colleagues believed “Efimova to be a whistle-blower and we know that she has been harassed and forced to flee Malta, fearing for her life and her family.”

The EP mission’s report quotes Efimova telling MEPs that she was not Daphne Caruana Galizia’s original source on the story linking the Prime Minister’s wife, Michelle, to the Panama company, Egrant.

Efimova was employed at Pilatus Bank but had her job terminated. The termination happened almost a year before Caruana Galizia published the Egrant story on her blog.

Efimova had claimed to have seen bank documents indicating Michelle Muscat as the ultimate beneficial owner of Egrant. The company was the third mysterious firm revealed by Panama Papers, which had been set up by Maltese financial services firm Nexia BT at the same time as the two companies for Mizzi and Schembri were set up.

The Muscats had denied the allegation and called for a magisterial inquiry, which is ongoing.

According to Efimova’s testimony to MEPs – she testified by video conference from an undisclosed location – she was not the original source on Egrant.