Allegations of bribery involving the Director of the Department of Fisheries and Agriculture, Andreina Fenech Farrugia, that emerged in Spanish news reports on Tuesday are “extremely serious” and must be investigated, said NGO Fish4Tomorrow in a statement.
El Confidencial published evidence of conversations between Fenech Farrugia and Jose Fuentes Garcia, a Spanish tuna kingpin, that were intercepted by the Central Operation Environmental Unit (UCOMA) in Spain with the help of Europol. The alleged international tuna ‘laundering’ ring was worth up to €25 million.
The report and transcripts suggest Fenech Farrugia accepted bribes from tuna operators, even using a sim card provided by the company for their communication.
The NGO said that illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing was one of the largest threats to the health of the oceans and the communities that live off of them.
“It has been a top priority for scientists, policy makers, fishers, and civil society alike. The allegations that a top government official and the world’s largest bluefin tuna operation are involved in the illegal trade of an already endangered fish is extremely serious and requires the appropriate response from both local government and the EU,” said JD Farrugia, director of Fish4Tomorrow.
“We are calling on the local authorities to carry out a full investigation on the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture as well as the Maltese branches of the Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos Group; Mare Blu Tuna Farm Ltd and RF Malta Holding Ltd,” the NGO added.
Fenech Farrugia was suspended when the allegations came to light. She had been was reinstated as Director General (after being removed by the previous administration) soon after the Labour Party was elected in 2013. She replaced Joe Caruana who was summarily ousted despite a successful track record.
Intercepted conversations showed her telling Fuentes: “I’m in Bulgaria just for you, you have to pay me, because there’s a meeting and I’m with the director general of Brussels” on 20 June last year. She was in Sofia, Bulgaria, at the time taking part in a series of meetings relating to the fishing sector.
Bulgaria held the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2018.
The European Fisheries Commissioner is Maltese Labour stalwart Karmenu Vella, father-in-law of Labour MEP Miriam Dalli.
The Fuentes Group consists of 40 companies in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Croatia, Morocco, Tunisia and Malta with tuna fishing and farming at the core of its operations. Its representative in Malta is Mare Blu, involving John Sebastian and Massimo Cappitta.