Maria Efimova is a Russian woman who lived in Malta for a few months between 2016 and 2017. She worked briefly at Pilatus Bank between January and March. She says she was employedthere. Her employer says she was an intern.
While there she came across what she believed were suspicious financial transactions by politically exposed persons from Malta and other countries.
She claimed her salary which was not paid and was unceremoniously thrown out when, she says, she asked too many questions. She reported her former employer to the authorities and in retaliation the bank chased her for money it argues she misappropriated.
That is when Maria Efimova decided to speak of what she knew. That started the biggest political storm that has ever gripped Malta. And the storm rages on.
But it has also changed her life. A private, family woman has become a political fugitive in hiding. The political tools of a state are focused on discrediting her. She has been branded a spy, a witch, a mad woman, a liar. She fears for her life.
The Malta Independent interviewed her when she was still in Malta before the 2017 elections but under pressure from Pilatus Bank that interview has been wiped from The Malta Independent’s online record.
The record cannot be straight if her testimony is wiped from history.
I recorded this conversation with her before the publication of the Euro-parliamentarians’ report.
Part 2 of the interview will be posted tomorrow.
MD: Maria Efimova, thank you for joining me for this discussion. You have been in the news in Malta for less than a year, but it feels like much longer. I’ll take you back to when we first heard of you. You weren’t known as Maria Efimova at the time. You were known as the whistleblower working at Pilatus Bank. First of all, when did you first realise that you were in possession of very important documents?
ME: I realised that I’m in possession of important information when I was still working in Pilatus Bank but ok, by that time I didn’t understand how much important these information. When I was, I started following the Maltese news and I start recognising some political persons in Malta, I became even more sure that information I have is very important.
MD: Not only important. Also, information that suggests that people that you were seeing in the news, people in politics, were doing something that they should not have been doing.
ME: Yes, of course. But while I was working in the Bank, I was already trying to discuss this subject with the Bank Legal Officer, Head of Legal. I was asking her questions about political persons served by the Bank, not only Maltese but from other countries, and she was telling me that it’s fine, it’s normal practice let’s say in Malta, I should not be worried or pay particular attention to this, and it’s all agreed with authorities.
MD: When you were told this, you were being assured by the lawyer, listen, this is fine, everything in order, but you had a different opinion. How did you form that opinion? I suppose my question is, how are you competent in this subject?
ME: Yes, I see. Even when I was told that everything is fine, I knew that the Legal Officer means that it’s let’s say unwritten oral agreement that everybody in the authorities just closing their eyes, because as far as I know, and as far as I learn from my studies, there is a law mentioning politically exposed persons and there are very strict compliance procedures that should be in place in case of financial institutions providing services to politically exposed persons.
MD: So basically what you were finding was, that you were seeing names of politically exposed persons from Malta but also from outside. The country that keeps being mentioned is Azerbaijan obviously.
MD: Were there others? Let’s clear that out. Was it Malta and Azerbaijan or was it more complicated than that?
ME: Yes there were other countries, actually, they were Angola and Russia, those two I remember for sure, and Portugal as well I think.
MD: You have politically exposed persons, names that you recognise from a number of countries, your experience and your knowledge tells you, listen, I should be seeing procedures on how to handle these accounts, these procedures are not really there, and your Legal Officer when you escalate tells you ‘don’t worry, this is all accepted by the local authorities’. Do I get the picture right?
ME: Yes, yes, you’re right.
MD: Ok, alright, so you’re following the Maltese news and you’re starting to become aware of different names, clearly very famously the Panama Papers name Konrad Mizzi and Keith Schembri, they’ve been in the news for a year. Tell me about the moment where you realised you had in your hands documentation regarding Michelle Muscat. How did that turn a bell for you, how did that, you know, become a moment when you realised you had very delicate information in your hands?
ME: When I saw the surname Muscat, I already knew that it’s the surname of the Prime Minister of Malta, so I just put two and two, let’s say, declaration of trust hidden in the safe mentioning this surname, I just realised that it might be connected to the Prime Minister, and when I saw the company itself, Egrant, what is it, how the company’s transacting, the kind of transaction made me sure that there is a connection with Prime Minister.
MD: The type of transactions, how do you mean?
ME: I mean the funds to this company was coming from the company that belonged to Azerbaijanian governing family.
MD: OK. Alright, so this company Egrant had an account. The account was at Pilatus Bank. It was receiving money in transactions into this account. Is this the information that you saw?
ME: No, I saw that it said an account in Dubai, so the funds were going from the account of the company belonging to Azerbaijanian family, that company had account in Pilatus Bank, and they were sending funds to Egrant’s account in Dubai.
MD: I understand. OK, now you had this information in your possession. You said, you must have thought, ok this is maybe not right, because I’m not aware of what compliance processes have happened with this documentation. What did you decide to do then? So, the moment you realised what you had in your hands, what was your thinking process?
ME: So I realised as a foreigner who came to Malta a couple of months ago, and not even EU citizen, without anyone who I could know and contact, I realised that I can do nothing, because if I will go to the authorities and report, I don’t know what is going on, Malta is a small place, everybody is related to everyone. So I just for that moment I decided to not do anything, since I was not in position of compliance officer or compliance deputy officer. I did my duty, I reported all the shortcomings to the Legal Officer who was the Compliance Officer. So this is the procedure. As an employee, just employee not management, my duty is to file an internal suspicious transaction report.