Late journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was already in possession of a copy of a declaration of trust allegedly proving the Prime Minister’s wife Michelle Muscat owns the secret offshore Panama company Egrant before she even met the Russian whistleblower who has become central to the story.
This new twist to the Egrant story emerges from a detailed interview that whistleblower Maria Efimova, a former employee at Pilatus Bank, gave to journalist-blogger Manuel Delia which is being uploaded in daily increments on his blog and which Lovin Malta has heard in full.
“When we met for the first time, [Caruana Galizia] already had copies of those declarations of trust,” Efimova said. “She showed them to me and asked me whether they are true and whether I had seen them in the bank, and I told her that yes, I had seen those very same declarations.”
Efimova praised Caruana Galizia as a professional journalist – who didn’t pressure her to reveal information she was uncomfortable speaking about, but who also didn’t adopt a false over-friendly attitude.
During the interview, Efimova said she first contacted Caruana Galizia by email in October 2016 but the journalist only got back to her towards the end of February 2017. Caruana Galizia met up with Efimova for the first time in the beginning of the following March, just over a month before she uploaded two explosive blogs saying that Egrant belonged to Michelle Muscat and that it had had two bank accounts – one with Pilatus Bank and one with a Dubai bank.
According to the story, Egrant’s Dubai account had received several payments – including one major one of $1 million – from a Pilatus Bank account owned by a Dubai-registered company whose ultimate beneficiary owner was Leyla Aliyeva, daughter of Azerbaijan’s ruler Ilham Aliyev.
Joseph Muscat has repeatedly and vehemently dismissed the story as the “greatest lie in Maltese political story” and has promised to resign if a magisterial inquiry, which he called in April last year, finds a shred of proof in it.
A blurred-out Maria Efimova during an interview with the Malta Independent last year
After Caruana Galizia was assassinated, Efimova told a special committee of MEPs that she was not the late journalist’s “original source” for the Egrant story – a comment that Joseph Muscat pounced on as proof that Efimova was not a source of information at all. Asked by The Times of Malta whether Efimova’s ‘original source’ comment could mean that Caruana Galizia already had a source before speaking to the Russian whistleblower, Muscat responded: “I think that people would think there is no source”.
However, Efimova’s interview – which was conducted before the MEP committee published its report – has now thrown a massive spanner into the works of that narrative. The statement means that Caruana Galizia had received a copy of the declaration of trust from an unknown source and then met up with Efimova to corroborate the story.
In the first and seconds part of the interview, which Delia uploaded today, Efimova said she filed at least ten reports of suspicious transactions – including some conducted by PEPs – to Pilatus Bank’s management and legal and compliance officer during her three month tenure at the bank, but her warnings kept falling on deaf ears.
“They were not actually listening to what I was saying, they just kept telling me its not my business and I should mind my own business,” she said. “When the legal officer told everything was fine, I know now that she meant there was some unwritten oral agreement and that everyone in the authorities will close a blind eye. As far as I know from my studies, there are strict compliance procedures that financial institutions should put into place when giving services to politically exposed people.”
Indeed, she said she believes Pilatus Bank withheld her salary to pass on a message of power to her and other employees.
Efimova confirmed she didn’t take out any documents pertaining to suspicious transactions from Pilatus Bank and that she is speaking about such transactions solely from memory.
Caruana Galizia never published a copy of this declaration of trust, but uploaded a transcript of it and said the original documents have been scanned and uploaded to the cloud for security purposes by third parties. A week before publishing the story, she wrote that she had discovered who owns Egrant “by yet another series of serendipitous flukes”.
Efimova is currently in hiding in an unknown country. Last August, the Maltese courts issued an international arrest warrant for her after she repeatedly failed to show up to court sittings in a case instigated by Pilatus Bank, who is accusing its former employee of embezzling funds. However, the special committee of MEPs who spoke to Efimova have contacted her country of residence to ensure she receives adequate safety.