The European Commission has been asked to investigate any misuse of EU funds by operators of the aquaculture industry in Malta after the former Fisheries Director Andreina Fenech Farrugia was implicated in an illegal scheme in the trade of Bluefin tuna involving millions of euro.
Five international environmental NGOs have called on EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella to provide an update on the handling of the allegations of laundering illegal Bluefin tuna from Malta.
WWF, ClientEarth, the Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana and Fish4tomorrow, have called for concrete and immediate action on the matter in a letter sent to Commissioner Vella.
Malta’s tuna farming industry has been under intense international scrutiny after it was revealed it was at the centre of a racket involving the trade of an endangered species. The operation, called Operation Tarantelo, was overseen by Europol and revealed by El Confidencial. It focused on illegal tuna catches from Maltese waters being funneled to Spain via Italy and France.
Calling it the world’s largest illegal Bluefin tuna operation, the NGOs called for a full investigation and audit report that would detail any malfunctioning of the Maltese fisheries control system as well as any lack of enforcement of EU rules.
Fenech Farrugia, now suspended on full pay, is accused of taking bribes from Spanish tuna kingpin Jose Fuentes Garcia, following the interception of phone calls made between the two.
The organisations expressed concern over “systematic inefficiencies and ineffective practices” within the Fisheries and Aquaculture Inspection Department in Malta and outlined points of action to be addressed by the Commission.
Member States involved should take “immediate enforcement measures in accordance with Article 39 and 43 of the IUU regulations (Illegal, Under-reported and Unregulated),” and products coming from any company or farm suspected of being involved should be suspended, the NGOs said.
They also asked that the results of all recent and future investigations and audits to be communicated publicly, as well as updates on corrective measures taken by the Commission against Malta or any other Member States involved.
“An investigation, the public disclosure of its findings and the enforcement of regulations are vital to the responsible management of the fisheries industry, and the credibility of the EU as a leading proponent of sustainable fishing policies,” the organisations said.
Fenech Farrugia was appointed to the Fisheries Department’s top post soon after the Labour Party was elected to power on orders of the Prime Minister despite an investigation into Malta’s poor performance under her watch requested by the European Commission.