A Russian whistle-blower linked to slain Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has handed herself in to the police in Greece, saying she feared for her life.
Members of the European Parliament on March 20 issued a statement calling on the Greek authorities to provide Maria Yefimova with protection after she walked into a police station in Athens.
A European arrest warrant was issued for Yefimova in November after she was accused of giving Caruana Galizia crucial information for a report she wrote pointing to possibly illicit links between the governments of Malta and Azerbaijan.
Yefimova reportedly told Caruana Galizia that she had seen documents suggesting that 1 million euros ($1.2 million) from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s family had found its way into an account held by Michelle Muscat, the wife of Malta’s prime minister.
Joseph Muscat and his wife have denied accusations that the money was transferred to Michelle Muscat from the Aliyev family through Egrant Inc, a secret offshore firm in Panama.
The European Parliament statement described Yefimova as “an important witness for investigations into corruption and money laundering in Malta.”
She fled Malta last year, saying she feared for her life and family. Authorities in Malta and Cyprus have issued arrest warrants for her, but for different reasons.
The Maltese warrant is based on an accusation by Malta-registered Pilatus Bank that she stole from the bank, which is her former employer and it at the center of the corruption allegations. She denies it and has counter-sued the bank.
The Cypriot arrest warrant is based on a similar embezzlement claim by Cyprus-based Fragrance Distribution, where she worked before moving to Malta. She also denies that allegation.
Greece must decide whether it will extradite Yefimova to either country.
Stelios Kouloglou, a Greek member of the European Parliament, said that “her possible extradition to Malta would seriously jeopardize her life…. The arrest warrant against Maria Yefimova is based on ridiculous accusations by Malta’s authorities.”
Kouloglou said he had been helping Yefimova with an application for residency in Greece.
Ana Gomes, a Portuguese member of the European Parliament, demanded that EU states give her whistleblower status and grant her “asylum or international protection, since she is at serious risk.”
Caruana Galizia was killed in a car bombing in October 2017. Three men have been charged with her murder, but the mastermind behind the attack is still believed to be at large.
With reporting by dpa, Reuters, AP, BBC, and The Guardian