Since her suspension in 2019 over corruption allegations, former fisheries director Andreina Fenech Farrugia has been paid some €60,000 in salaries for doing nothing at all.
Fenech Farrugia was suspended following revelations of her alleged involvement in a scandal uncovered by Spanish media involving one of the biggest tuna ranchers in the Mediterranean – Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos SA.
An investigation by Spanish law enforcement authorities, called Operation Tarantelo, had unveiled a web of illicit tuna trading between Malta and Spain worth some €12.5 million.
During the investigation, the Spanish police with the help of Europol gained access to telephone conversations between Fenech Farrugia and Jose’ Fuentes – one of the owners of the company in question.
Published excerpts revealed close links between the two, showing also the Gozitan director-general allegedly arranging permits and business for Fuentes in exchange for bribes.
While the minister responsible at the time, Jose Herrera, took immediate action to suspend her, no further action has been taken. No charges have been filed against her and she has not been dismissed. The result is she has continued to receive half her salary since 2019 while contributing nothing.
Civil service chief Mario Cutajar is refusing to explain why substantial taxpayers’ funds are still being paid to Fenech Farrugia.
A copy of her suspension letter issued by then-Permanent Secretary Joseph Caruana in February 2019, obtained by The Shift, informed Fenech Farrugia about her immediate suspension as a “precautionary measure” according to the internal disciplinary rules guiding the public service.
The letter also specifies that “in the case that her suspension is not authorised, she will be reinstated in her position and given the rest of her salaries due,” meaning a further €60,000 payment from State coffers.
The Public Service Commission, responsible for disciplinary action within the public service, also refused to explain why the case against Fenech Farrugia has already taken three years without coming to any kind of conclusion.
While the suspension is costing taxpayers almost €2,000 a month in salaries, the PSC informed The Shift that it is precluded by law from divulging any information about cases it is considering, insisting that all proceedings are secret.
Sources close to the fisheries ministry told The Shift that it was unacceptable for a senior government official to be accused of wrongdoing and then left in the dark.
“Apart from the sheer waste of public funds in keeping a senior official at home while getting paid, the government should decide whether to fire Fenech Farrugia or reinstate her back into the service. The status quo has been left too long and the situation is neither fair on Fenech Farrugia nor taxpayers.”
Fenech Farrugia has denied the claims but has taken no action to defend her position, raising questions about whether an undisclosed settlement has been reached.