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Cyprus’ arrest warrant for Efimova sparks CoE media freedom alert

General view of the Council of Europe assembly

The arrest warrant issued by Cypriot authorities against Maria Efimova, the source for murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, has attracted the attention of the Council of Europe which issued a media alert.

The alert is listed in the category of “other acts having chilling effects on media freedom” and was issued after two partners, the non-governmental organisations, Reporters Without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists, raised the issue after they saw in it a potential threat to media freedom, according to the Council of Europe’s website.

The arrest warrant which concerns an alleged embezzlement of funds following a complained filed by the Limassol-based I.D.F. Fragrance Distribution Ltd, a Russian-owned company which employed Efimova in the past, is also issued against her husband.

Efimova worked in late 2016 at Malta’s Pilatus Bank, which according to Caruana Galizia’s reports, transferred funds from an account belonging to one of the daughters of Azeri president Ilham Aliyev to Egrant Inc., a Panamanian firm owned by Michelle Muscat, wife of the island-state’s prime minister Joseph Muscat. The reporter died in a car bomb attack in October.

In a previous interview with the Cyprus Mail, Efimova, who denies any wrongdoing and said that the case filed against her is a plot to discredit her in public, also expressed fears for her life. She has reportedly applied for asylum in an unspecified European Union country.

Ana Gomes, a socialist member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Portugal who led a delegation of the parliament to Malta two months ago, asked European Union member states to either grant Efimova asylum or international protection as she had been harassed and forced to leave Malta.

The Council of Europe’s alert, issued on January 25, came days after Cypriot media falsely reported that Efimova was wanted in Cyprus as a suspect in Caruana Galizia’s murder.

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.cy reported 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.

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