Sources close to the tuna industry said that they are surprised that the Fisheries Department Director Andreina Fenech Farrugia wasn’t killed in the last few years when she put her foot down with some tuna operators.
She is currently suspended after allegations of taking money for illegal tuna trade, although Fenech Farrugia insists she always did her job to the best of her capacity. A Ministerial Inquiry regarding the alleged payments is being led by Magistrate Gabriella Vella.
Recently it was alleged that a local operator, Giovanni Ellul from Malta Fish Farm Limited (MFF) was the person to irregularly supply tuna. Ellul categorically denied this when questioned by Spanish newspaper, El Confidencial.
A source spoke to Newsbook.com.mt pointing out that Ellul’s MFF Limited is part of the Maltese Federation of Aquaculture Producers led by Charlon Gouder.
This newsroom tried to contact Gouder at different times throughout last Tuesday, but the last phone call ended with a request to be sent questions by email. Until the time of writing, Gouder still has not answered the questions. One of the questions Newsbook.com.mt asked Gouder is if MFF Limited is part of the Federation, and if when legal representation in Spain was established, whether they knew that MFF Limited or people associated with the company were being investigated in Spain.
The day the allegations regarding Fenech Farrugia were published, Gouder had said that the Federation had also appointed lawyers in Spain to closely follow Operation Tarantelo. He had stated with this newsroom that it was done for the industry to have the best protection. Gouder had also described the decision to suspend the director as “clever”, adding that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Gouder was the private secretary for Jose Herrera when he was the Parliamentary Secretary for Competitiveness. He said that he had resigned in 2015 and was appointed as a consultant to the Parliamentary Secretary.
According to a report by Lovin Malta, the Fisheries Department’s new temporary Director, Randall Caruana, who was in the department when it was led by Fenech Farrugia, had already flagged up the Mare Blue company in Malta. This is owned by Jose Fuentes Garcia, who is the the Vice President of the Fuentes Group thought to be responsible for the illegal tuna trade by the authorities.
He had filed two separate reports with two different departments, the Department of Financial Crimes and the Department for the Administrative Enforcement of the Law in April 2018. In the report on Mare Blu, it says that the company allegedly used a boat without the necessary commercial license; that there was fishing outside of designated fishing zones; that fish was caught illegally or breached quotas; that the fish’s origin was untraceable; and that this was not the first time.
On their end, the Police said that they have been investigating the tuna allegations and the involvement of the Director General. In a statement, the Police had said that the Economic Crimes Squad had been investigating alleged illegal payments since last October. The statement also said that the Police and the Inquiring Magistrate had gone to Spain to meet authorities about the case.
The Spanish El Confidencial published transcriptions of phone calls between Fenech Farrugia and Fuentes Garcia. In one of the intercepted conversations, she told Fuentes Garcia that she is in Bulgaria only because of him and that she wants to get paid, as well as that she has a meeting with the Director General in Brussels. Investigations by the Spanish Police show that she was using a Spanish number to communicate with the operator.