Just when she thought the persecution was over, Maria Efimova, the whistleblower who helped expose the corrupt ties between organised crime and Malta’s political establishment, found that the nightmare was back. On Monday 17 November, Pantelis Varnava, Efimova’s husband, was put under arrest in Crete following a request from Cyprus’ authorities.
Maria Efimova is a former employee of Pilatus Bank who in 2017 passed on data to Maltese anti-corruption activist and investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia revealing that a secret Panama-based company – Egrant, Inc. – belonged to Michelle Muscat, the wife of Malta’s former prime minister Joseph Muscat. Caruana Galizia had been investigating an intricate web of corruption and money laundering schemes in Malta based on the information contained in the 2016 Panama Papers scandal. Six months after Caruana Galizia published this information she was killed when a car bomb was detonated inside her vehicle as she drove close to her home.
At first, Efimova acted as an anonymous source for Caruana Galizia, but when the official investigation started, her identity was revealed by the inquiring magistrate’s assistant.
Efimova, her husband and two children fled the country and sought refuge in Greece soon after Caruana Galizia’s murder.
Aware of DiEM25’s and MeRA25’s defence of whistleblowers, Efimova approached the movement founder Yanis Varoufakis earlier this week right after her husband’s release. “At this point, going public, sharing my story with the world, is all I have left to protect myself and my family. Like an insurance policy in case something was to happen to us”, Efimova said.
Varoufakis expressed serious concerns over Efimova’s safety. “The source which exposed a money laundering and corruption scheme involving Malta’s former prime minister is now under fierce attack by Malta, Cyprus and a corporate, murderous establishment willing to do anything to silence her. We will fight to protect her, just as we do with other champions of transparency and freedom of information such as Julian Assange,” said Varoufakis.
“By going against my husband on made-up charges they are just trying to exert pressure on me, this is another twist in the plot”, explained Efimova, who has already won a battle against the Maltese government when it sought her extradition back in 2018 and a Greek court ruled against the arrest warrant and extradition request.
According to Efimova, the charges against her husband are false and stem from the time they were in Cyprus: her husband never worked at the company he is now being accused of stealing from. Varnava was released pending a court hearing that will decide on the extradition request. He is not allowed to leave the country and must check in with the police on a regular basis.
In addition, Efimova has recently been receiving threats via Facebook. “Comeback to Malta or else we are going to find you one way or other. You have dues to pay here, you frickin liar!!!” is an example of the types of messages she has been targeted with. She filed a police report and reported the posts to Facebook. The social network has not responded to her reports.
Partly because of Caruana Galizia’s investigation and Efimova’s critical contribution to it, Pilatus Bank had its license revoked by the European Central Bank in 2018.
Renata Ávila, a member of DiEM25´s Coordinating Collective and legal advisor in Julian Assange’s defense team, denounced Efimova’s trauma as yet another case of a heightened assault on whistleblowers world-wide:
“This is an urgent call for the whole EU to accelerate their implementation of the EU Whistleblowing directive. The level of violence and corruption truth tellers face and the failure of our institutions to protect them cannot continue. Maria´s case is a test for Europe’s courage; it is the opportunity to act fast as a community, beyond borders, and live up to its commitment to effectively protect and guarantee whistleblowers’ safety and their right to a life free from fear of persecution and retaliation. Maria and all whistleblowers make democracy in Europe stronger. Negligence and inaction kills, as we saw with the devastating case of Dafne Caruana Galizia. Capture by power silences and punishes the messenger, as we are witnessing in the Assange case. Let´s hope the leaders of Europe will revert to this with bold actions.”
Efimova expects this situation to worsen, and to become even more dangerous for her and her family. In addition, she has recently learned about a new case being filed against her for perjury in Malta. The continued arrest warrants are putting her family under severe financial stress. “Legal costs are mounting, and we will soon be financially destroyed,” she said. “This is part of their vindictive strategy: to silence me.”
Efimova said that she is in possession of unreleased information and evidence related to Caruana Galizia’s investigation of illegal transactions.
Varoufakis announced that MeRA25 will soon file a request in the Hellenic Parliament for Efimova to be granted asylum, as well as a legislative initiative to enhance Greece’s whistleblower protection laws.
Photo: Maria Efimova.
Article first published in openDemocracy.