Greece prosecutor to seek Maria Efimova testimony on Panama Papers, MEP says

Syriza MEP Stelios Kouloglou, who has been in contact with the Russian whistleblower, said there had been no request from Cyprus for her extradition

Maria Efimova turned herself in to Greek authorities on Monday
Maria Efimova turned herself in to Greek authorities on Monday

Greece’s special prosecutor against corruption will be asking Maria Efimova to testify before her, according to Greek MEP Stelios Kouloglou.

Efimova turned herself in to Greek authorities on Monday, the same day that Pilatus Bank chairman Ali Sadr Hasheminejad was arrested in the United States on severeal counts of bank fraud, breaching of US sanctions against Iran, and money laundering.

However in comments to MaltaToday, Kouloglou said he did not believe the two events were linked.

He said that while it had been reported that Efimova was the subject of European arrest warrants in both Malta and Cyprus, Malta was the only country requesting her extradition. “Her lawyer has not found any claim for extradition from Cyprus,” he said, adding that there were only two from Maltese authorities. “One concerns tickets and the other something with a policeman but there is no claim for extradition coming from Cypriot authorities”.

MEPs from all political groups have called on the Greek government to protect Maria Efimova and not extradite her to Malta. In an open letter to the Greek government, the 36 MEPs said that Efimova was a star witness in cases of corruption and money laundering within Pilatus Bank.

Efimova, who worked for Pilatus Bank back in 2016, was at the centre of allegations published last year by the late Daphne Caruana Galizia, that the Panamanian company Egrant belonged to Michelle Muscat, wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Caruana Galizia had claimed Efimova had seen documents proving Muscat’s ownership while she was an employee at the bank.

The Russian national is the subject of at least two sets of criminal proceedings, accused in one of defrauding Pilatus Bank and in another of having made false accusations against Superintendent Denis Theuma and police inspectors Jonathan Ferris and Lara Butters.

Kouloglou explained that the case regarding her extradition would take “something like a month” to be decided, but said that in the mean time, Greece’s “special prosecutor against corruption will call her to testify”.

Asked what she would be asked to testify about, Kouloglou said: “the prosecutor is investigating all cases related to corruption and the Maltese case is linked to the Pamana Papers. She is going to call Maria Efimova to see if she has anything to say about illegal activities and the Panama Papers.”

On Thursday, the website Cyprus Business Mail cited to sources in claiming that Efimova was likely to be granted political asylum. The report quotes an MEP saying that the case was on Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s desk.

However, Kouloglou also said that Efimova had not yet decided on whether she would be applying for political asylum.

“Whether she will apply for political asylum or not is a decision she must take together with her lawyer, but it is unclear whether she will do so,” he said.

According to the Greek MEP, Efimova’s fears were rooted in her believing she could be killed if she returned to Malta, rather than not being granted a fair trial.

“She fears she will have the same fate as Daphne Caruana Galizia if she returns,” he said, adding that whoever had ordered the journalist’s killing could still conceivably make an attempt on her life, if she returned.

Kouloglou said he had been contacted by Efimova about a month and half ago, requesting help in obtaining a Greek residence permit.

“She called me as soon as she arrived at the police station to tell me, and I asked her why she had gone before waiting for me to find her a lawyer,” he said. “She said she was afraid for her life and part of the reason was that she had had a number of calls from British newspapers who were asking her questions trying to establish a relationship between her case and the spy dispute between London and Moscow.”

He said that Efimova had been contacted by various news organisations, including the Financial Times and Reuters, adding that she was “frightened because of this because she could not understand why”. 

“Apparently is no relation so she viewed this as intimidation. That’s why she felt she would be more protected inside the police station than she would outside.”