Updated: Malta fisheries director suspended for alleged illegal tuna trade

­­­­­Malta fisheries department Director Andreina Fenech Farrugia was indefinitely suspended after allegations of taking money as part of Spanish illegal tuna trade. A Magisterial Inquiry is also underway being led by Magistrate Gabriella Vella.

The Government said in a statement that it is collaborating with the authorities in all ongoing investigations. It was also explained that Maltese Police contacted Europol to receive information from Spanish authorities regarding their investigations into illegal tuna trade which involved the multinational Spanish Grupo Fuentes, which also has a company in Malta. The Government said that it will also be collaborating in the best interested of the Maltese fishing and aquaculture sector.

According to transcripts published by Spanish El Confidencial, Fenech Farrugia spoke to Jose Fuentes Garcia, the man allegedly responsible for illegal tuna trade which authorities suspect has gone up to €25 million. Fuentes is the Vice-President of Grupo Fuentes, the largest seller of Atlantic Bluefin Tuna in the world. The group also has a Maltese subsidiary, Mare Blue Fishing, which according to its accounts, lost €7.5 million in 2017 with a gross profit of €26 million.

She was quoted by the media as having said, “I am in Bulgaria just for you. You have to pay me, because I have a meeting with the [director] general of Brussels.” According to the quotes, it was also clear that Fenech Farrugia had been collaborating with Garcia for a while, so much so that the group had added and declared more tuna in Maltese fish farms. The tuna was exported to countries like Japan, the United States, among others.

It was also revealed that Fenech Farrugia allegedly used to use a Spanish number to communicate with Fuentes Garcia according to the Spanish Police investigations. She then also reportedly said that she would be staying in the same hotel, meeting Garcia on the 25th June 2018 at 11pm.

A Ministry spokesperson who confirmed Fenech Farrugia’s suspension with Newsbook.com.mt earlier this morning explained that there was going to be a statement by the Ministry, and that the Ministry “definitely” intends to investigate, as was mentioned above. He also said, however, that at that stage they were waiting and seeing. When asked whether the investigation will be passed on to the Police, the spokesperson said at the time that they will be checking with their lawyers if the Police will be investigating in their own right, or whether the Ministry needs to lead the investigation.

When asked whether a new Director General will be chosen to replace Fenech Farrugia, the spokesperson replied that she was indefinitely suspended adding that it is “obvious” that someone needs to run the department. He did not exclude that a new director will be appointed in the coming days, or even hours. He concluded that the Ministry’s priority remains that fishermen and the industry are not negatively impacted, insisting that the sector needs to continue moving forward.

Operation Tarantella is the name of the investigation by Spanish and Maltese authorities which is being dubbed the largest illegal tuna trade investigation in EU history.

According to The Times of Malta, this is the second time she has been removed from a top position in the department after EU fisheries officials’ advice in 2011, but she was reinstated in 2013 by the PL Government.