(Adds statement by Cypriot MEP Takis Hadjigeorgiou in sixth paragraph)
By Stelios Orphanides
A group of members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have strongly criticised sections of the Cypriot media for implicating whistleblower Maria Efimova in the murder of a Maltese journalist.
“Recently, several reports published in the Cypriot media are incriminating and (or) linking whistleblower Maria Efimova with the murder of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia,” said a statement on Friday signed by seven MEPs who participated in the inquiry committee on the Panama Papers and in a delegation to Malta two months ago.
The statement added that Efimova, a former Pilatus Bank employee and regarded as a witness of public interest and the whistleblower, released information on the lender and was “one of the sources of information for Daphne Caruana Galizia’s investigative reporting”.
The seven European lawmakers, David Casa of the European People’s Party (EPP), Sven Giegold of the Greens-European Free Alliance (EFA), the Ana Gomes and Maria Grapini of the Socialists & Democrats group (S&D) and Stelios Kouloglou, Patrick Le Hyaric and Takis Hadjigeorgiou of the European United Left–Nordic Green Left group (GUE/NGL), said that their “sole aim and sincere interest is the protection of all whistleblowers who disclose information of public interest”.
“In this context, we strongly denounce and express our concern on how some media in Cyprus are covering the story of Maria Efimova,” they said. “Their coverage is unfounded, misleading, defamatory and intimidating. Potentially, putting whistleblower Maria Efimova and her family’s life at risk”.
In a separate statement emailed by the European Parliament, Hadjigeorgiou, a Cypriot MEP, said that the reports linking whistle-blower Efimova “in a completely disgraceful and blatant way” to Caruana Galizia’s assassination, including their headlines, “are not only misleading but also insulting and slanderous”.
Caruana Galizia lost her life in a car bomb attack in October, six months after she reported that Michelle Muscat, the wife of Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, was the owner of Egrant Inc., a Panamanian company which received funds from an account belonging to a daughter of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev at Pilatus Bank.
The reports in the Cypriot press which prompted the reaction of the MEPs, presented Efimova as a suspect for Caruana Galizia’s murder and in certain cases cited a Cyprus Business Mail report dated January 16, which never made that claim.
On January 19, Sigmalive.com reported that “Efimova is wanted by Maltese authorities for her involvement in the assassination of the 53-year-old journalist”. The day before, 24sports.com.cyreported that Efimova, branded as a “woman spider”, was wanted by the Cypriot police for Caruana Galizia’s murder. The website Offsite.com.cy which also reported on the same day about her alleged involvement in the slain reporter’s murder, corrected the report days later. It still reports however that Efimova had worked for Pilatus Bank in Cyprus which is false.
Another news website, Reporter.com.cy, reported on January 21 in an anonymous story, that Efimova and her Cypriot husband Pantelis Varnava had worked at Promsvyazbank and Bank of Cyprus respectively.
The story in Reporter.com.cy which cited unnamed foreign media reports which in turn allegedly cite unnamed sources of Bank of Cyprus and Promsvyazbank, said that the couple’s performance was “unsatisfactory” and suggested that after they had been fired some unspecified “irregularities” had been found.
The Reporter.com.cy story, citing an unnamed “former colleague”, said that the couple attempted to settle in four countries in the past four years “leaving chaos behind” every time they left.
The Cypriot police said on January 16, that it had issued a European and international arrest warrant against Efimova and her husband, after I.D.F. Fragrance Distribution Ltd, a former employer of hers in Limassol, filed a complaint against her over the alleged embezzlement of funds. Efimova, who has meanwhile applied for asylum in an unspecified EU country, dismissed the allegations and said that the complaint is part of a plot to discredit her.
The Cyprus Business Mail spoke with the author of the Reporter.com.cy story on January 24 but the latter failed to forward links to the reports it cited in the story after it was requested to do so by the Cyprus Business Mail. An online search has been unable to locate them.
In December, MEP Gomes asked EU member states in a letter to grant asylum or international protection to Efimova, a mother of two, who said that she left Malta in fear for her life and that of her family members.
The January 21 story in Reporter.com.cy, also claimed that Efimova were wanted also in Ireland and Malta for offences that may include “theft, fraud, embezzlement and forging documents”.
It described her as “a woman from Russia with a dark past in Cyprus”. Both she and her husband were wanted for four years by authorities, the report added.
A copy of the joint statement is available here: