The tuna kingpin: No public accounts for 18 years

AJD Tuna Ltd, one of the largest operators in the multi million euro fish ‘farming’ industry, has not filed its audited accounts since the company was established 18 years ago despite laws that state these should be provided annually.

The company, owned by Charles Azzopardi of Azzopardi Fisheries, was established on 28 April, 2000. The company boasts it “introduced the concept of Blue Fin Tuna farming into Malta” in 1999 with the support of Japanese and South Korean investors.

In all these years, and in what developed into an industry that accounts for 1% of GDP, the company’s numbers have never been published as required by law. This means creditors, authorities and other interested parties are left in the dark about the company’s finances.

Estimates made by The Shift News in consultation with financial experts showed that AJD Fisheries has accumulated fines of over €20,000 in relation to this ongoing failure to file accounts. This is based on the penalty and daily fine applied by the Registar of Companies (RoC) for late submissions, and the number of years the company failed to meet the legal requirement of submitting annual audited accounts.

These fines are a drop in the ocean for a multi-million euro industry, and they have allowed AJD Fisheries 18 years of privacy, in an industry that has courted controversy since its inception. It is impossible to know the company’s real turnover and profits.

Over the last 20 years, the tuna industry became one of Malta’s major exporters of fish products, mostly to Japan. The year 2013 was a record in which exports totalled over €215 million.

In 2016, it exported a total of €121 million. Last year, the industry exported around €124 million according to the NSO.

Exports to Japan are 90% of AJD Fisheries’ turnover.

Altogether the industry operates a fattening capacity of over 12,300 tonnes. Based on biomass, AJD Fisheries (which includes Malta Mariculture) would have just under one third of the total ~ estimated at €40m per year in turnover. It is not possible to verify this figure due to the company’s failure to submit records for scrutiny.

Last month, ERA announced all operators of the tuna fattening industry were fined “up to €70 daily” for the occurrence of so-called ‘slime’ along the country’s coasts and other breaches of permit conditions over the past two months.

The Shift News accessed the RoC records of tuna operators in an attempt to understand the impact of this fine on profits in the industry. Figures show it’s a drop in the ocean, and cannot be safely assumed to act as a deterrent to stem the industry’s impact on the environment.

Most of the other tuna operators also appear to be late in submitting audited accounts – only the records of Mare Blu Tuna Farm and Pisciculture Marine De Malte were fully up to date. But AJD Fisheries stood out as the only company to have never submitted its audited accounts to the RoC since it was set up, 18 years ago.

Over the last 20 years, Malta built up one of the Mediterranean’s largest bluefin ranching capacity. In 2007 alone the industry processed 11,360 tons of the fish — nearly 40% of ICCAT’s entire quota for that year.

Meanwhile, Azzopardi went from fisherman to magnate with diverse investments including property development, but tracing the steps is anyone’s guess since public records are not available.

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