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Cyprus

Greek court rules against extraditing Russian source in Maltese scandal

A still image taken during an interview with The Malta Independent in April 2017. The photograph has been blurred to help protect Efimova’s identity.

A Greek court on Thursday ruled against extraditing a former bank employee who ignited a political scandal in Malta when she became a source for an investigative journalist who was murdered last year.

Maria Efimova, a Russian who left Malta for Greece last year with her family, surrendered to Greek police last month and was arrested at Malta’s request.

Maltese prosecutors had filed a European warrant for her on suspicion of embezzlement and said she should be tried on the island.

Efimova denied the accusation. The court ordered her release on Thursday.

Efimova was employed for three months in 2016 by the Maltese-registered Pilatus Bank. The journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, named her as the source of internal bank documents which Galizia said indicated that Michelle Muscat, wife of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, owned a secret company in Panama.

Joseph Muscat and his wife have denied the accusations.

A group of 36 European parliament members signed a letter this month calling for Efimova not to be extradited to Malta.

Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in October 2017. Three men have been charged with killing her but police have yet to give motive.

Pilatus Bank has accused Efimova of embezzlement. Efimova denies all charges and has counter-sued the bank for failing to pay her salary.

In January, the Cypriot police said they issued an arrest warrant against Efimova and her Cypriot husband in connection with an alleged embezzlement case following a complaint filed by the Limassol-based and Russian-owned IDF Fragrance Distribution Ltd in 2014, where Efimova had worked. She said in January that she intended to apply for political asylum in Greece and members of the European Parliament (MEPs) repeatedly asked Greek authorities to protect her.

Efimova, a mother of two, also said that she had left Malta two months before the assassination of Caruana Galizia fearing for her safety and that of her family. She also denied having committed any offences in Cyprus and said that the complaint filed against her aimed at damaging her credibility.

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