Maria Efimova, the former Pilatus Bank employee turned whistleblower, has spoken up for the first time since the entire Egrant enquiry was made public earlier this week.
In a live interview with David Thake, the former PN deputy mayor of St. Paul’s Bay, Efimova and her husband say she is ready to submit important financial documents for forensic testing if she is granted whistleblower status and protection from prosecution as well as having a crowdfunding campaign cover the expensive costs.
Efimova is said to have found documents indicating declarations of trust allegedly showing Egrant belongs to Michelle Muscat, the wife of Joseph Muscat, inside a safe in the bank’s kitchen and taken a copy.
Importantly, she explains the reason she didn’t hand over these essential documents to Magistrate Aaron Bugeja, instead denying having the documents when questioned by him.
“I didn’t give him the copies, or any other documents of the company Egrant, and the reason is the magistrate told me that even if I did give him the copies it would be evidence that was acquired in an illegal way,” Efimova said. “Then I would have a problem. That was the reason that I did not give the copies to the magistrate.”
She also said that another reason she didn’t submit the copies was that “the police and government in Malta cannot be considered independent”.
However, she confirmed she did still have the documents, and says she “stands by her words”.
Efimova had been warned by the magistrate that if she had obtained something in an illegal way and without whistleblower status, it can be used against her.
“That’s why I said I didn’t have access at that moment,” she said.
“So essentially,” David Thake clarifies, “you were told to tell us what you know, but if what you know you came to know through covert means, underhanded means such as opening a file you weren’t supposed to or taking a document that you weren’t supposed to, then you could be liable for criminal prosecution?”
“Yes, exactly for this reason,” she said.
“So then you said you need to be careful… and then later in the inquiry he called you a liar, and at the end of the inquiry he says police should take action against you because you are a liar,” Thake said.
Efimova also explains that Pilatus Bank used two parallel accounting operating systems, one of which was hidden, and that many of her colleagues at the bank had no idea what was happening due to their lack of experience.
“This is crucial – the bank had two books, different accounting operating systems, two parallel systems. One was visible to everyone, and that was shown to the FIAU, the other was another system where they conducted transactions that would not be shown,” she said.
Interestingly, the inquiry does not mention this second hidden system.
She refers to another colleague, Ms Stankovich, who also ended up leaving Pilatus Bank because she did not want to participate in the questionable transactions she was seeing.
Efimova describes a working environment where her colleagues had no idea what the bank was really doing.
“With all due respect to my colleagues, in 2016, not all of them, almost none of them with exception to one or two people had any previous banking experience,” Efimova said.
“They came from restaurants, secretaries, or were opera singers,” she continued. “They didn’t have a clue what was going on, they all had access, not all maybe, but almost everybody had access to the system and I remember very well that they didn’t understand the second system, because to access it you needed to connect to another server somewhere else, I don’t remember where now.”
She touches upon how she began to understand how “cruel” Maltese authorities were when they withheld her passport to go to her mother’s funeral, and through their behaviour during her interrogations.
“When I was interrogated and tortured by the police, not physically but psychologically, they invited the bank’s CEO to my interrogation, they had them seated there and the police officer was telling me to say sorry and apologise to these highly-respected people,” she recounts.
When asked if they were feeling angry about how they were treated in Malta, her husband speaks up.
“Yes, of course, it wasn’t happiness, it was anger,” he said.
However, she denied the allegation that she had spoken out due to the anger.
“I think its quite impossible to make all of this out of anger,” she said.”I had enough information on Pilatus already, and the bank was obviously connected to the government. I didn’t have to create something, I already had enough.”
Indeed, her husband says that when he saw how that the bank hadn’t paid his wife, and the way police began ‘lying’ about things, he became worried something was going to happen to her.
“If we had stayed in Malta, I believe something bad would have happened to Maria too,” he says.