The magisterial inquiry into the alleged involvement of Andreina Fenech Farrugia in a Bluefin tuna ‘laundering’ scandal worth millions is still open one year down the line as the European Commission issued a formal warning to Malta over its failure to comply with fishing control regulations.
Fenech Farrugia was suspended from her role as Director General of the Fisheries and Agriculture Department in February 2019 when Spanish newspaper El Confidencial published evidence of conversations held with Jose Fuentes Garcia, a Spanish tuna kingpin, that were intercepted by the Central Operation Environmental Unit (UCOMA) in Spain with the help of Europol.
She was suspended on full pay on suspicion of bribery and facilitating the ‘laundering’ of prized Bluefin tuna via the Fuentes Group, which was estimated to be worth up to €25 million. A magisterial inquiry was launched in Malta.
Asked why no conclusion had been reached one year down the line, the Fisheries Ministry said the “sittings were only halted due to closure of courts in view of COVID-19”. The conclusion of the inquiry, the spoksesperson said, went beyond the remit of the ministry.
Meanwhile, Fenech Farrugia remains a government official within the ministry. While the precautionary suspension was lifted, she is still on unpaid leave.
Two weeks ago, the European Commission issued a formal warning to Malta and gave it a four-month deadline to address a list of shortcomings related to its failure to comply with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing regulation, among other things.
The Commission said Malta had also failed to follow the recommendations set by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) on Bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean while also failing to comply with the Bluefin Tuna Regulation.
“In particular, Malta failed in ensuring the presence of an effective monitoring, control and inspection system in Bluefin tuna farms,” it said.
When asked what preventative measures had been implemented, the spokesperson said the ministry “has set up administrative structures and assigned responsibilities accordingly. Government codes of practice and applicable directives are to be followed by all officials”.
Having a proper administrative structure in place with a director general and two directors supported with administrative and technical officers “ensures that there is more good governance and accountability,” she added.
A Fisheries Implementation and Oversight Committee was also set up to oversee the operations of the Fisheries Department and ensure best practice and compliance with regulatory requirements.
The Shift asked the ministry to explain how these procedures address the issues highlighted by the Commission. She said they strengthened the Authority’s ability to fulfil its role as a regulator, together with other actions implemented as part of ongoing reforms.
“Without prejudice to the ongoing process with the European Commission, it must be understood that these related to previous years, such as 2018. After that, changes to address issues highlighted were already being introduced,” she said.
The spokesperson said the ministry reinforced its “determination” to ensure that the relevant EU, ICCAT and national rules were followed to safeguard the fishing sector and its sustainability.
Last November, The Shift revealed how the illegal catchment of Bluefin tuna in Malta may amount to thousands through a subversive fishing practice at a reef known as Is-Sikka tan-Nofs, close to tuna ranching operations in the area.