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‘Misconduct was known’

Andreina Fenech Farrugia was appointed to the Fisheries Department’s top post on orders from the Prime Minister despite an investigation into Malta’s poor performance under her watch requested by the European Commission, it emerged in Parliament on Wednesday.

Opposition MP Jason Azzopardi tabled a 100-page report in Parliament on Wednesday that was compiled by the Internal Audit and Investigations Department (IAID). The unit falls under the Office of the Prime Minister, leading Azzopardi to say Joseph Muscat “lied” when he claimed he was unaware of any misconduct justifying her transfer away from the Fisheries Department in 2010.

Fenech Farrugia was reinstated soon after the Labour Party was elected in 2013, reflecting the industry’s influence on political parties. She was suspended last week – on full pay – on suspicion of bribery and facilitating the ‘laundering’ of prized Bluefin tuna via the Fuentes Group.

New reports in the Spanish press on Wednesday revealed more details of what occurred under Fenech Farrugia’s watch, in an industry that was known to be corrupt from day one.

At the end of 2009, Fenech Farrugia ordered the release of 262 tonnes of illegal tuna, but four days before the release date an “accident” meant the tuna disappeared.

According to documents obtained by El Confidencial, the tuna was being held in cages belonging to the Maltese company, Ta’ Matthew Fish Farms Limited, caught in Malta and Algeria. They did not have the necessary documentation proving their legal capture.

Just four days before the planned release, four of the pens holding the fish were ‘damaged’. Ray Bugeja had said this was due to a storm, claiming he lost some €7.4 million – an old trick used in the industry. The company was then bought out by Malta Fish Farming Ltd in 2015.

Intercepted conversations showed that Fenech Farrugia was helping a major player in the industry breach European and international regulations on the catch of a highly prized species. Tuna is caught from the wild and fattened in cages, then sold to the Japanese market for tens of thousands of euro.

Spanish authorities suspect that the illegal trade of Bluefin tuna involving Malta could be worth up to €25 million via the import of undeclared tuna and the bypassing of restrictions.

When Fenech Farrugia had occupied the position, the EU Maritime Affairs and Fisheries director-general at the time, Lowri Evans, had said the Maltese fisheries sector was “in a very bad place”. Minutes of the 2013 meeting were also tabled in Parliament on Wednesday.

Overfishing led to the almost complete collapse of the species, leading to the toughening of international regulations to control catch, at huge cost to European taxpayers. At this controversial time, Fenech Farrugia was heading the Malta fisheries department.

The practices of Malta’s tuna farming industry have impacted residents and tourists too.  The number of tuna pens in close proximity to the coast has resulted in an increase in complaints of them causing detriment to “residents, swimmers, and causing damage to the marine environment through oil slicks, slime residue, and waste products from the tuna confined to these pens”.

Nicolai Abela of ‘Stop the Slime’ filed a Parliamentary Petition on 5 March 2018, objecting to the proposed increase in the number of tuna pens off the coast of St Paul’s Bay that remains unanswered to this day.

The Shift News had revealed that the owner of those tuna pens belonging to another major player in the industry – Azzopardi Fisheries – had not filed any audited accounts in 18 years, making any scrutiny of the company’s operations impossible. There was no reaction from the Malta Financial Services Authority that is responsible for ensuring companies registered in Malta abide by company regulations.

Read: Malta exposed – A hub for the ‘laundering’ of prized Bluefin tuna worth millions

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