The government, all the way up to Cabinet, has gone completely silent about the outcome of a magisterial inquiry as well as the employment status of the former director-general who was embroiled in a corruption scandal in 2019.
Andreina Fenech Farrugia is the former director-general of the fisheries department who was caught red-handed soliciting bribes from an alleged tuna laundering ring worth up to €25 million. She was immediately suspended from her position and was also the subject of a magisterial inquiry into the allegations.
Over a week ago The Shift began sending questions about both the suspension and the magisterial inquiry to the relevant branches of government, including the office of the attorney general, the fisheries department, and the office of the Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries Alicia Bugeja Said.
Despite multiple emails and calls, no answers have been provided. Attempts to reach Fenech Farrugia directly also proved unsuccessful.
Bugeja Said’s campaign expense declaration showed that she had received electoral donations from, among other major players in the fishing sector, a company that has never filed audited accounts since it was first set up: AJD Tuna Ltd, owned by brothers Charles and Anthony Azzopardi.
While the parliamentary secretary did not respond to questions about whether Fenech Farrugia is still suspended from her executive role as director-general, last May she did tell reporters that she believes that there was “no conflict of interest” when questioned about the fact that the same people both her and Fenech Farrugia were supposed to be regulating were also donors to her campaign.
Even though three years have passed since the scandal was first exposed by Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, the office of the attorney general has not even acknowledged questions about the status or outcome of a magisterial inquiry into Fenech Farrugia’s links with the tuna laundering ring.
The only recent action taken by the government on the fishing industry’s well-documented issues, was, however, not related to Fenech Farrugia or the scandal she was involved in.
In January, the government started an investigation into an insolvent fishermen’s cooperative that had failed to file audited accounts for years, although even that has been challenged and criticised by former executive members of that same cooperative.
The cooperative, Għaqda Koperattiva tas-Sajd Ltd, was run by an executive committee largely controlled by four individuals – Joseph Demicoli (president), Paul Piscopo (secretary), Michael Carabott (vice-president) and Ernest Galea (treasurer).
Piscopo’s vessel was previously caught ferrying contraband diesel, while Carabott was caught smuggling ammunition that was allegedly destined for Libya. According to laws regulating cooperatives, Galea is technically forbidden from being on the committee since the law forbids fish vendors from doing so.
The president of the organisation has close ties with the Labour Party.
While the organisation’s leadership is supposedly set to be replaced following the conclusion of the government’s investigation, a former secretary of the same cooperative’s committee told The Shift that the government had generally failed to protect individual fishermen from big businesses like Azzopardi Fisheries, who he says have pushed small-timers out and have completely taken over the industry.