The Malta Independent 10 April 2020, Friday

CoE issues Level 2 media freedom alert over Cyprus’ arrest warrant for Russian whistle-blower

Sunday, 28 January 2018, 08:30 Last update: about 3 years ago

The Council of Europe’s Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists has issued a Level 2 media freedom alert over Cyprus’ arrest warrant for Maria Efimova, the Egrant whistleblower and one of assassinated journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia’s sources on Pilatus Bank.

The alert was issued on 25 January and cites ‘Other acts having chilling effects on media freedom’. The source of the threat is listed as ‘State’ and deals specifically with Cyprus’ issuing of an arrest warrant after a complaint filed by a former employer.

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The Council of Europe (CoE) notes that on 16 January, Cyprus had issued a European arrest warrant against Efimova in the wake of a complaint filed by the Russian-owned Cypriot company IFD Fragrance Distribution against Efimova, who is accused of stealing from the company.

It also notes that Efimova, “a former Pilatus Bank employee, had tipped off Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia that the wife of the Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Michelle Muscat, was allegedly the owner of Egrant Inc., a Panamanian offshore company”.

The CoE also notes that Efimova, who lived in Cyprus four years ago before moving to Malta, says these new charges are part of a plot to discredit her and to extradite her to Malta, where she was placed on the wanted list after failing to turn up for court sittings.

“Efimova left Malta in August 2017, fearing for her life and that of her family, after having given evidence to the prosecution on the allegations regarding the prime minister’s wife ownership of the Panama offshore company. The Prime Minister and his wife denied the allegations and called for a judicial inquiry.”

Efimova has now applied for political asylum in an unspecified European Union country and has asked the European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry into money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion to recognise her as a whistleblower.

The European Parliament asked EU member states, including Malta, to protect Efimova and grant her asylum, after a delegation led by the Portuguese MEP Ana Gomes visited Malta in late November 2017.

The CoE’s platform is a public space to facilitate the compilation, processing and dissemination of information on serious concerns about media freedom and safety of journalists in Council of Europe member states, as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The aim is to improve the protection of journalists, better address threats and violence against media professionals and foster early warning mechanisms and response capacity within the Council of Europe.

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