March 30, 2018 / 11:56 AM / a year ago

Russian source in Maltese scandal fears for her life: lawyer

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek lawyer representing a Russian woman who blew the whistle on alleged wrongdoing at Malta-based Pilatus Bank, says his client fears for her life if she is extradited to Malta.

Civil society activists demonstrate outside the Greek Embassy, calling on the Greek government to grant political asylum to Maria Efimova, a Pilatus Bank employee who ignited a political scandal in Malta when she became a source for investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia who was murdered last year, in Ta' Xbiex, Malta March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/Files

    Maria Efimova was identified by slain investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia as one of her sources. Galizia, killed in a car-bomb attack in Oct. 2017, had reported that the Maltese prime minister’s wife was the ultimate beneficiary of funds in a secret company in Panama, including funds from Azerbaijan transferred through Pilatus Bank.

    The prime minister and his wife have denied the accusation, and a magistrate’s investigation in Malta is under way.

Three men have been charged with Galizia’s death.

Efimova has been held in the women’s wing of the Korydallos maximum security prison in Athens since earlier in March. Greek lawyer Alexandros Papasteriopoulos told Reuters TV in an interview in Athens that she turned herself in because she felt there was a risk to her safety.

“She received a message that, ‘you have to protect yourself’ and therefore she went to seek for this protection from the Greek police,” he said. He did not say who sent Efimova the message.

A Greek court is scheduled to hear a Maltese extradition request on April 12 for Efimova on the strength of an arrest warrant for alleged misappropriation of funds.

Efimova denies the charges brought by her former employers and says she had permission to use the money. Papasteriopoulos said she has filed a lawsuit against the bank for unpaid wages.

“She says that ‘I will never have any fair trial in Malta and I am directly afraid of (sic) my life’, this is very clear,” Papasteriopoulos said.

On Tuesday anti-corruption activists in Malta wrote to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urging him to grant asylum to Efimova, but Papasteriopoulos said it was unlikely she would request it.

“Malta is a European member state and its quite difficult to prove that the rule of law is severely violated there, so I don’t think that at the time being she thinks of submitting a political asylum request in Greece,” he said.

Reporting By Deborah Kyvrikosaios; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

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