Andreina Fenech Farrugia (right) was suspended for allegedly soliciting a bribe from a tuna magnate
The fisheries directorate had reported the Mare Blu tuna farm to the police for illegal fishing practices some ten months before its director general Andreina Fenech Farrugia was suspended for allegedly soliciting bribes from them in return for higher fish quotas.
Lovin Malta has received two reports that were filed in April 2018 by Fisheries Directorate director Randall Caruana to two police departments – the Economic Crimes Unit and the Administrative Law Enforcement Unit.
Caruana, whose directorate fell directly under Fenech Farrugia’s responsibility, requested the police to prosecute several people involved in the tuna farm, which is owned by the Spanish tuna ranching giant Fuentes e Hijos.
The people recommended for prosecution were directors Francesco Fuentes, Jose Fuentes Garcia and John Cappitta, managers Pedro Martinez Gonzalez, Massimo Cappitta and Peter Paul Spiteri, and registered captain Mario Frendo.
The alleged crimes included making use of an unlicensed fishing vessel for commercial purposes, fishing outside the legal zones, not rendering their fish traceable, keeping fish that was either caught illegally or in amounts that exceeded that permitted by the stock protection laws, and recidivism.
The report to the Economic Crimes Unit also accused Mare Blu of submitting false information with regards the farm plan they had submitted as a prerequisite to obtaining a license. It also specifically accused Pedro Martinez Gonzalez and Peter Paul Spiteri of having hindered Fisheries officials from carrying out inspections on their ship.
Apart from prosecuting the responsible individuals, the Fisheries official also urged the police to request that the courts immediately confiscate the illegally-caught fish and impose fines in terms of corporate liability legislation – set at between €20,000 and €2 million.
Fenech Farrugia was suspended from her job last week after Spanish paper El Confidencial published phone intercepts showing how she had asked Mare Blu director Jose Fuentes Garcia for payment.
The transcripts appear to show that Fenech Farrugia had solicited a bribe from Fuentes Garcia.
“I am in Bulgaria just for you. You have to pay me, because I have a meeting with the [director] general of Brussels to fix things,” she was quoted as saying.
The conversation was intercepted by Spanish investigative authorities as part of Operation Tarantella, a massive crackdown on illegal tuna trading.
One of Mare Blu’s tuna farms in Malta. Photo: ICIJ
Spanish telecoms provider Telefonica confirmed to the investigators that Fenech Farrugia had made use of a SIM card the was registered by Ricardo Fuentes e Hijos. Fuentes meanwhile made use of a second mobile phone, that investigators believe was only used to speak to Fenech Farrugia.
However, Fenech Farrugia has pledged innocence, insisting that she was “singled out” in a wide-reaching investigation, that payments made to her in return for quota increases were always regular and that the published transcripts were poorly translated to Spanish and easily misinterpretable.
She also noted that there were times she had ordered action be taken against Mare Blue, and at least this part of her statement has now been verified.